New Yorkers hit hard by the recession may be getting further squeezed -- by tomatoes. Soaring prices are making the tomato a luxury purchase these days.
"I won't stop buying them yet, because they're my favorite," said one woman we stopped shopping in a Manhattan supermarket. The assistant store manager there told us a pint of cherry tomatoes had just gone up two dollars for a sixty-six percent increase.
What has transformed tomatoes into the Rolls-Royce of vegetables? A twist of fate and a snap of Mother Nature's fingers, sending Florida into the deep freeze. Most of the fresh tomato group grown in the U. S. is farmed in Florida and the winter chill has destroyed 70% of the crop, making supplies scare and reliance on imports greater.
"Today in the market a 25-pound bag of plum tomatoes cost $43 and that's expensive," said Gianni, the owner of posh Manhattan restaurant Bravo Gianni on the Upper East Side. Not too long ago a bag that size used to cost $17 or $18, Gianni said.
One good piece of news: Tomatoes in a bottle, jar or can in the form of ketchup or sauce probably won't see any significant price increase because the bulk of the tomatoes grown in the U.S. for processing come from California.
Most of the imported tomatoes are grown in Mexico, though Canada does produce hothouse crops. If the Florida farmers and USDA are correct, prices should drop in April when farmers in the sunshine state are expected to harvest a new tomato crop.