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Tomatoes become scarce as prices rise

March 12, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
If you have been able to find them you may have noticed that the cost of tomatoes has jumped considerably in recent days.Whether it is vine ripened or Roma, almost all varieties of tomatoes are costing more.

A winter cold snap gave a big hit to Florida's tomato harvest. The state produces about 75 percent of the nation's tomatoes.

California stores and restaurants usually get their tomatoes from local growers and farmers in Mexico. But supplies south of the border have also been shrunk by a very cold winter and what's left is being shipped to the eastern United States for top dollar.

"They get a higher price for them back east so they kind of get first choice," said Julius Graham, store manager of Hows Market in Pasadena.

Now fast food chains like Subway are switching tomato suppliers earlier than usual this year. The sandwich retailer says they are hoping to avoid having to raise prices. Other restaurants are posting signs about the shortage.

Graham says a typical 18-to-20 pound box of tomatoes costs about $16. Over the last two weeks the price doubled to $32. On Friday the price was $26.

While the entire price increase has not been passed onto customers, Hows has had to raise prices about 50 percent.

"What are you going to do? If you want a tomato you buy it," said shopper Sally Birge. "You can't expect them not to sell them for higher. It's supply and demand."

"I feel bad for the people in Florida, but I feel bad for those that have to pay a little bit more for their tomatoes," said Susan Stone Ray. "Tomatoes are such a vital part to out menus here in California. So I pay a little more for a nice ripe one,"