The prolonged January cold-snap in Florida has resulted in a tomato shortage that’s affecting both supermarkets and restaurants.
Fast food chains such as Wendy’s and Burger King have, in many cases, stopped automatically including the red fruit in their sandwiches and salads. Now customers must request them.
Subway restaurants have continued to offer tomatoes on their sandwiches, but the chain is using different varieties than usual to be sure it has enough on hand.
Tomatoes are hard to come by due to the unusual and lengthy spell of freezing temperatures that wiped out about 70% of the tomato crop in Florida, which is the nation’s largest source of winter tomatoes. A spokesman for the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange said this week that a 25-pound box of tomatoes was selling for around $30, compared to $6.75 at this time last year.
The price of fresh tomatoes is expected to sharply decline in April when farmers in southern Florida begin harvesting a new tomato crop. But Florida growers remain concerned that they will have permanently lost market share to Mexican-grown tomatoes by then. In recent weeks, vegetable shipments from Mexico (including tomatoes) have jumped by as much as 50% over levels imported one year ago.
Supermarket chains such as Publix and Supervalu have been supplementing their supplies with imported Mexican tomatoes during the shortage.
The USDA calculates that the January freeze cost Florida vegetable producers about $300 million.