The ASUCD Coffee House has started charging $.30 to add tomatoes to a deli sandwich. It has also stopped offering tomatoes with salads at Chopstix and has eliminated production of pico de gallo salsa at the TxMx Grill.
Recent freezing temperatures in Arizona, Mexico and Florida have caused a spike in tomato prices nationwide. During the winter months of January through March, Florida accounts for 34 percent of tomato shipments in the United States, according to the USDA. But due to weather conditions, the volume of tomato shipments has decreased to 10 percent of last year’s volume.
“The freezes hit us hard,” said Sharon Coulson, ASUCD Coffee House Director. “A 25-pound box of tomatoes that usually costs us about $30 has recently gone up to $65.”
Coulson said this increase in price started about three weeks ago.
The CoHo produce comes primarily from the west coast region of US Food, a distribution company that receives produce primarily from Florida and Mexico.
“Tomatoes are not the only products that have been affected by this weather,” said Nancy Storm, a sales representative from US Food who works with UC Davis. “We’ve also seen increases in price for lettuce, celery, zucchini and cucumbers.”
The CoHo has currently stopped purchasing green bell peppers due to a similar increase in price.
Storm said that along with an increase in prices, the quality of produce has decreased as well.
“The problem is the availability of tomatoes has gone way down at the same time that the demand has gone up. And the quality of the tomatoes is just not as good,” Storm said.
This is not the first time tomato prices have increased to this extent.
“Tomato prices always go up in the off-season,” said Coulson. “Over the summer, we see prices go as low as $15 a box.”
Price increase is one of the consequences of buying produce that is not in season, she said. So far, the increase in prices has not had an effect on sales.
“I would say about 50 percent of the customers are still getting tomatoes on their sandwiches, even with the charge,” said Charlene Lumanlan, senior genetics major and CoHo cashier.
Aside from charging customers extra for tomatoes, the CoHo is looking for other products and varieties that are cheaper.
“We considered switching to ‘roma’ tomatoes for the time being, which are significantly cheaper than the six by seven-inch diameter ‘hot house’ tomatoes we currently use,” Coulson said.
However, due to the oblong shape of roma tomatoes, the product does not fit into the Coffee House’s slicer.
“This means that all of the tomatoes that we use in sandwiches and other recipes would have to be cut by hand, and that extra labor will end up costing us just as much as the more expensive tomatoes.”
They have, however, found a temporary solution in purchasing six-by-six-inch tomatoes from US Food.
As of Friday, the 25-pound box of this variety has gone down to $36.30. Unfortunately, Coulson said, prices are too variable right now for them to immediately get rid of the extra charge.
“Next week, prices might rocket again. But we’re hoping by next quarter we will no longer have the additional charge.”
JENNIFER LISTUG can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.