Tomato prices rising amid short supply, local merchants say - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Tomato prices rising amid short supply, local merchants say

By Jamel Major - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Local merchants are worried about what the rising price and short supply of tomatoes may mean for their bottom lines.

Hamida Pirani, manager of City Market Grocery and Deli, said Friday she is definitely feeling the effects of a tomato shortage.

"My customers come in, look at the crop, the tomatoes, and might assume we don' t want to carry fresh produce," he Pirani said. "But that's not the case. Everything else is nice and fresh and pretty, but the tomatoes."

An unusual cold spell that impacted parts of Mexico, Texas, and Florida is to blame for fresh tomatoes being in short supply.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the January freeze cost Florida vegetable producers nearly $300 million, with tomatoes generating about half of that total loss.

Pirani said there's been a noticeable increase in the price she pays for the crop.

"Around 11 to 15 percent change where it's gone higher - around 15 percent is what I've experienced," she said.

However, many grocers are absorbing most of the increase rather than passing it on to their customers.

"We have absorbed a little of the cost, but not completely because we're a small scale store," Pirani said. "We're not as big to handle that cost."

Fast Food Restaurants chains like Wendy's have put up signs alerting customers about the tomatoes, and many will only include tomatoes in sandwiches if customers ask.

The situation that has Pirani and other area businesses and restaurants hoping for some much needed relief.

"We hope the situation changes and we get a better looking crop," she said.

Experts say there may be little relief until April, when the price of fresh tomatoes is expected to fall as farmers begin harvesting a new tomato crop.

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