This winter’s abnormally cold weather may not have only gotten you out of class—it may have affected your sandwich. Florida, the United States’ leading supplier of fresh winter tomatoes, lost an estimated 70 percent of this year’s crop during a January cold snap.
While restaurants on or near campus are still serving tomatoes, owners and managers are paying close attention to this suddenly rare and expensive fruit.
“Tomato plants are extremely sensitive” says Michael Moore, manager of the campus McAlister’s Deli. “In just three straight hours of 35 degree weather, tomatoes will turn to mush.”
This is essentially what happened to tomato crops in Florida during a January cold snap, when farmers estimate they lost about 70 percent of their crops. Throughout the year, Florida and California account for two-thirds to three-fourths of all fresh tomatoes produced in the U.S., with the exception of Florida being the largest supplier during the winter when California does not grow tomatoes.
As is often the case when a product is in short supply, tomato prices have risen significantly.
“The regular price of tomatoes is something like $18 a case,” said Moore. “Right now it’s $60 a case. So the cost comes to something like a dollar per tomato.”
Curtis Johnson, cook at the Mad Batter Bakery & Café, has also noticed a price increase.
“On March 12 we found out prices went up big-time. It may cost another $20 every time we order tomatoes.” Johnson said. “We may have to switch to a cheaper type of tomato until prices go back to normal.”
Lauren Loper of the Cat’s Nip Café said that the restaurant is trying to conserve its tomatoes.
“What we’re doing now is making sure people want them so we don’t waste them.”
Courtyard location manage Remy Doda said that the Courtyard Dining Hall is currently not serving whole tomatoes.
“Four days ago [March 8] I stopped getting tomatoes, and I won’t order any more until I hear something from higher up.”
Doda said that students will still be able to eat dishes with tomatoes, they will just be eating a different kind of tomato.
“I’m getting processed tomatoes, which are already sliced or diced and have a shelf-life of six or seven days. They’re still fresh, but they’ve already been cut by someone else.”
All of the on-campus dining locations are currently serving tomatoes, and the Mad Batter, the Cat’s Nip Café, and Subway are all able to provide their customers with the product. Rolling Stone Burrito, which uses canned tomatoes, remains unaffected. This should come as a relief to students like Miles Gentry and Jenna Cordrey, who say they would not be happy without tomatoes.
Said Gentry, “I would be really, really, really upset, because I like tomatoes.”
Cordrey agrees, adding “It’s one of the main ingredients in what I eat.”