Tomato Prices Soar Due to Shortage

FRESNO, Calif. The heat was on during lunch-time at Mak's Landing at Chandler Airport. Mark Balucas is in constant motion. Whether it's a salad for the health conscious or a thick burger customers, can't do without tomatoes.

But about three weeks ago Balucas found it difficult to find decent tomatoes. Balucas explained, "First thing I noticed was the price kind of went up. I noticed yeah, they were really white, mealy, gassed, not a lot of flavor."

Ed Beckman, President of the Tomato Farmers Commission, said "The problem is the supplies out of California came to an early conclusion this year back in early November and then supplies out of Florida didn't start to ramp up until December so there was a gap there, where there just really wasn't any tomatoes available in the United States."

Some produce distributors were charging about a buck for one large tomato so Balucas had to go shopping. He said, "I ended up just going to stores, supermarkets and just kind of perusing the availability ... five pounds at a time and hoping it would change."

Mexico and Florida are producing most of the tomatoes you find in stores now. Although, you can still find some tomatoes grown in California hothouses.

Beckman said more produce is now coming in from Florida so the shortage and high prices should soon ease. Beckman added 60-percent of the tomatoes in the U.S. are bought by restaurants. "You may actually see supplies at the supermarket decline. Unfortunately your consumer kind of gets what's left over at this time of year."

Florida is experiencing very cold conditions right now. Beckman said if temperatures plummet, freeze damage could quickly cause tomatoes to spike again.

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