The two states that are major tomato producers for the United States have experienced environmental problems this year that have caused the shortage. California tomatoes typically dominate the market between June and October, and Florida tomatoes take over from October until the next June. This year California experienced substantial rain and lower temperatures that caused rotting and wiped out approximately 1500 acres of tomatoes. The four hurricanes that came through Florida caused a delay in planting essentially ensuring the shortage. To top it off, Mexico, which is also a significant producer of tomatoes, was infested with pests that ruined up to 40 percent of the crop in the Baja region.
Many restaurants in the area are seeing the effects of the tomato shortage as tomato prices rise and supply decreases.
Wendy's customers are asked to request a tomato when placing their order. Otherwise, it will be left off all sandwiches.
Joey Mastey, manager for Subway, said he has felt the effects of the shortage. "We ordered one case of tomatoes and split it up between two stores," he said. Subway will use what's left of that case until they run out. They will try to order more in a week, depending on prices and the produce quality.
Guests at Countryside Restaurant will notice a change due to the shortage. Darlene Ogaldez, manager of the restaurant, paid $56 for a case of tomatoes. "That's more than filet mignon," she said. Tomatoes have been removed from the salad bar. They are still being served with hamburgers and other sandwiches. "Customers have to realize that we just can't afford that," said Ogaldez. Countryside gets tomatoes from Cisco or Clark Produce.
The Cadiz Restaurant owner, Bonnie Noel, said that the tomato prices were awfully high. She gets her tomatoes from McCartney Produce and her tomatoes are coming from Paris, Tenn. The Cadiz Restaurant is going to try to keep things the same until prices get too high. "Everyone likes tomatoes and we're going to give them to them," said Noel.
Cracker Barrel and McDonald's said they are not having any problems with the tomato shortage. McDonald's gets tomatoes from the store's distribution center. McDonald's manager said, "Prices went up, but we can still get the amount we need."
Trigg Residents who are purchasing their own tomatoes from the grocery store will also find increased prices. Chris Washer, owner and manager of Washer's IGA said, "We're not selling many. People are going to buy at that high of a price." At this time of year, Washer said tomatoes typically cost $1.09 per pound. This year, however, the cost is $3.69 per pound. "Prices are probably going to go higher before they come down," Washer said.
Hancock's Neighborhood Market owner Mallory Lawrence said, "We’ve been able to be supplied, but it has definitely slowed the sales." A pound of tomatoes at Hancock's costs $2.79 per pound.
Tomatoes are considered a fruit, because generally a fruit is the edible part of the plant that contains the seeds. The tomato plant is native to the Americas where it was originally cultivated by the Aztecs and the Incas. When Conquistadors reached the Americas in the sixteenth century, they took tomato seeds home where they quickly became favorites of Italy, Portugal and Spain.
Early United States colonists believed the tomato was poisonous, as that was a common British misconception. However, in 1812 Creoles in New Orleans began making tomato-enhanced gumbo and jambalaya. The people of Maine followed their example by combining tomatoes with fresh seafood.
By 1850 the tomato had become an important source of produce in the United States. People were growing tomatoes in small backyard gardens and on large corporate farms.
As the Florida crop begins to become more plentiful, tomato prices are expected to fall. Until then, people will have to deal with the increased prices or do without tomatoes.