Colder than normal temperatures are putting the squeeze on Florida farmers profits and leaving consumers feeling the pinch in their budgets and on their plates.
Seeing Red: Weather Costs Tomato Industry
LESTER HOLT, anchor:
There's a new threat to your food budget we want to tell you about. During your last trip to the supermarket, you might have noticed the price of tomatoes has soared. You may have also noticed restaurants aren't serving them as often. NBC's Ron Mott tells us why.
RON MOTT reporting:
Any way you slice it, a fresh tomato these days costs a pretty penny.
Unidentified Woman #1: Pay like 1.29, 1.59 a pound.
MOTT: Sticker shock, now 2.29 a pound.
Unidentified Man: Yeah, that's pretty high.
MOTT: Even 3.99 in places after an estimated 70 percent of Florida's winter crop, by far the nation's largest, withered away during a frosty January. It's left lots of rotten tomatoes in the state's $619 million industry, turning into a rotten bottom line for farmers like Tony Jennison.
Mr. TONY JENNISON: It was a total loss. We had to shut down all of our production operations. We're not able to pick a tomato. We normally harvest nine months out of the year, and this shut our operation down for two and one half months.
MOTT: The result? Wholesale prices as much as five times higher compared to a year ago.
Unidentified Woman #2: What would you like?
MOTT: In Fort Myers, Florida, tomatoes are suddenly on demand at the Oasis Restaurant, especially at $43 a case.
Ms. BONNIE GRUNBERG (Oasis Restaurant): We ask the consumer directly. If they're going to eat it, we're glad to provide it. And if they're not, then we simply don't put it on the salad or the sandwich.
MOTT: The same holds at some Burger King and Wendy's locations around the country. Other restaurants don't have such options. Take Southwestern style chain Moe's. Tomatoes are a key ingredient in many of its dishes, though the company says it won't limit supply to customers regardless of price. That means the pico de gallo is still piled high.
Mr. KEVIN VANDIVER (Moe's Southwest Grill): Obviously, we want to--we want to monitor the financial impact of what our food cost is doing and try to make changes accordingly, but so far we've been able to offset some of those increases.
MOTT: And where businesses can't absorb the added cost, consumers are taking the hit, most without stewing.
Unidentified Woman #3: I'm Italian, so tomatoes are a big part of my everyday cooking. I make sauce and salads. But I think this year we'll just have a little bit less of that.
MOTT: Good news is growing, say industry experts. The spring crop is coming up a healthy green so far. Ron Mott, NBC News, Atlanta.
SANTA MONICA, Calif. — The display at the Weiser Family Farms’ stand at a recent Santa Monica farmers market was sparse, even by early spring standards — potatoes, some green shallots and garlic, a little sprouting broccoli. The lilacs that signal the start of spring for many Southern Californians came and went weeks ago.