Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published March 26, 2010, 12:00 AM

Florida weather squeezes tomatoes

Local restaurants cut back due to cost
Some local restaurants are holding the tomato in response to skyrocketing produce prices.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

Some local restaurants are holding the tomato in response to skyrocketing produce prices.

Cold weather in Florida destroyed much of its winter tomato crop. Produce prices are based on supply and demand, said Vicki Roberts, produce buyer for Food Services of America in Fargo. When prices are high, quality tends to be poor, she said.

Wendy’s restaurants have posted signs informing customers they won’t put tomatoes on sandwiches unless requested, because of the limited availability and poor quality.

“Some people get angry when they realize there’s no tomato on their sandwich,” said Amanda Ouimet, manager of the Wendy’s on Fargo’s 13th Avenue South. “Once they see the tomatoes, they’re like ‘Oh, I understand.’ ”

Anna Weber, manager of the Burger Time in Moorhead, said she hasn’t noticed an issue with quality, but “the prices are a lot higher than usual.”

The same is true at Erbert and Gerbert’s on Moorhead’s Eighth Street South. “Right now, we’ve been rolling through it and eating the cost,” said manager Jason Ochsendorf.

Subway restaurants have reduced the number of tomato slices stacked on sandwiches by a third. Instead of putting six slices on a foot-long sub, now there’s four, said Mariah Richardson, an employee of Fargo’s Subway on 25th Street South.

Some customers ask for more tomatoes, which they get, Richardson said. “Most people let it go,” she said.

Roberts said her company warned its customers ahead of time about the issue.

“Quality will be marginal and (the tomatoes) certainly won’t last as long until Florida gets back up and California gets up and running,” Roberts said. It will probably take three to five weeks to “get enough tomatoes in the pipeline for the price to fall.”

Bell peppers and onions have also been affected by cool weather in growing areas, she said.

“Mother Nature’s not been good for the produce industry the last few weeks,” Roberts said.

Produce department employees at local grocery stores said they haven’t had issues with their tomatoes, because they generally aren’t brought in from Florida.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556