By Megan Stoker
Tomato lovers everywhere may have to cut back on their favorite vegetable as tomato supplies dwindle due to bad weather and bugs.
Close to 90 percent of the fresh tomato crops in the U.S come from Florida, but the series of hurricanes that struck Florida earlier this year almost decimated all of tomato crops. A bug epidemic in Baja, Calif. and heavy rains destroyed 30 to 40 percent of California”s supply, wiping out over 1,500 acres.
The natural disasters led to a 160 percent price hike of tomatoes, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture.
Local restaurants are feeling the effect of the shortage.
“We were paying about $12.74 for our tomatoes and the inventory that we just got in today was nearly $30 dollars for the same amount,” said Jay Simmons, culinary manager at Red Lobster in Provo. “And the tomatoes are much smaller. I mean they”re ok, but they”re defiantly not what we”re used to.”
To deal with the increased prices, many food companies are engaging in marketing tactics to draw customer”s attention away from tomatoes. According to a report in the Washington Post, fast-food chain Wendy”s switched its marketing campaign of the new chicken temptation sandwich to campaigns featuring chicken strips. The new sandwich features a large slab of tomato.
Other restaurants have taken tomatoes off the menu until the shortage is over. Quizno”s, for example, has cut tomatoes out of their menu all together and customers at other fast-foot restaurants have to ask for tomatoes to get them on their food.
Not all restaurants are leaving tomatoes off, however. Many, such as Olive Garden, have decided to keep serving the same food at the same price despite current difficulties.
“Other operations are making changes to their menus to deal with the shortage but we”re not,” said Travis Ballingham, general manager of Olive Garden in Provo. “We”re still offering tomatoes on all of our salads and dishes and we”re not changing the prices.”
Although Red Lobster will not increase the price of their food, the restaurant changed to the slightly less expensive roma tomato until the shortage is over, Simmons said.
Good news, especially for students, is that pizza prices have not been affected by the shortage.
“As far as I”m aware of we haven”t been affected by the shortage at all,” said Nick Christiansen, assistant manager at Papa John”s Pizza in Provo. “None of our prices have risen or anything like that.”
According to the Pizza Marketplace Web site, pizza shops are not affected by the shortage because the sauces and tomato purees that are used to make pizzas were canned earlier in the year, well before the shortage struck.