Tomato shortage turns into glut

Jan. 19, 2005

Sky-high fresh tomato prices are gone for now as last fall's crop shortage (read Red alert!) has been erased by a tomato glut.

Multiple news sources say Florida's tomato fields, whose crops were devastated by four hurricanes last fall, are filled with ripe to rotting fruit.

According to the Orlando Business Journal, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson was shocked to see many unharvested tomatoes in town of Homestead.

"The perception of a tomato shortage still remains in the mind of the public," he said. "As a result, consumers aren't buying tomatoes, retail grocers and restaurants aren't placing orders and our growers are facing disaster because they can't sell their crop."

Restaurateurs across the country paid as much as $50 a case for tomatoes in November, but those high prices collapsed under the weight of this winter's bumper crop. Multiple sources say case prices now hover in the low to mid teens.

According to The Sun-Sentinel newspaper, the current glut is so large that thousands of pickers and packers have been forced out of work. Bronson told the paper he'd never "seen this type of top quality tomatoes still hanging on the vines. It's just shocking." (Fresh tomatoes are typically picked when green or slightly pink.)

As much as 60 million pounds of tomatoes have been abandoned in the fields as a result of the oversupply, and farmers stand to lose as much as $40 million, according to The Sun-Sentinel.

Bronson wondered whether the rest of America was aware that the tomato shortage has ended.

"I don't know that retailers are being told the whole truth," Bronson said. "Consumers need to know we have plenty of tomatoes because when they do, they can demand lower prices."

Topics: Operations Management

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