Local restaurants are in a stew over a tomato shortage, after frigid weather destroyed over 70 per cent of Florida’s tomato crops.
The state had its coldest winter in 30 years, with temperatures dropping below freezing, according to the Florida Climate Center.
Tomato prices have skyrocketed, forcing local businesses to cut back.
A box of tomatoes that used to cost $16 to $20 is now $45 to $50, according to Subway franchise owner Hamid Ebtekali.
The quality is also an issue, Ebtekali said. “Before we could have kept the tomato for 24 hours. Now they’re suggesting cutting the tomato two hours [before serving]. So that puts a strain on the labour in here.”
Subway stores have been instructed to put no more than four tomatoes on a foot-long sandwich, Ebtekali said. If a customer asks him for more tomatoes, he is to deny the request and explain the shortage.
Local Wendy’s restaurants are posting signs telling customers they are no longer serving tomatoes on hamburgers, unless specifically asked for.
The freezing temperatures in Florida have also affected the export of green peppers, which have almost tripled in price for one box, Ebtekali said.
But because there is less demand for green peppers outside the food industry, that shortage is less dire then the shortage of tomatoes, he said.
When the crops in Florida were ruined, the only other country to buy tomatoes from was Mexico, said Patrick Mika, a produce worker at Guildwood’s Valu-Mart.
But the tomato shortage may actually be helping Canadian farmers who grow tomatoes indoors.
“Now [Valu-Mart has] have switched to Canadian which should be cheaper because it’s less transportation,” Mika said. “And the tomatoes usually come in better. It’s good for Canada.”
The shortage is expected to last another six weeks, according to the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange website. The supply and price of tomatoes should return to normal around the end of April or beginning of May.