Freezing weather in California, New Mexico and Florida has skyrocketed national produce prices this month, but the financial storm finally reached Tech’s campus just last week. The national produce shortages and price increases occurring this winter are forcing certain areas of Dining Services to make some adjustments.Students who ordered at the omelet bar at the Fresh Grille in the RUC Marketplace last week may have noticed the sign explaining that due to increased prices, tomatoes would not be available for breakfast.
“This is the first time I’ve seen produce [price] skyrocket in almost 10 years,” Sam Holm, Dining Services director, said. “In the early 90s, we literally had to take lettuce off the salad bar. The salad bar didn’t exist for a while because of some freezes in California and further south.”
With certain food budgets to maintain, Dining Services has seriously been considering which areas can afford reduction.
“We try to limit it. We still have tomatoes down in Backyard Burger and other places,” Holm said. “But you don’t have to have tomatoes on your omelet-it’s not going to be the end of the world. We just try to adjust to keep some of our costs in line because we have an overall budget we have to maintain.”
But as tomato prices triple across the country, jumping from $12-$15 to $40 per case, it’s not just Tech that’s affected. Driving the huge heightening in price is not only the law of supply and demand but shipping costs that increase as companies are forced to ship produce from further south, sometimes even from South America.
“We’re usually one of the last ones to [be affected] because of our volume,” Holm said. “Usually, you’ll see the supermarkets be affected quicker. With stores like Walmart and Kroger, tomatoes are already through the roof.”
The freeze is even causing larger corporations like Wendy’s to make cutbacks.
Wendy’s issued a statement to the Orange County Register saying, “We are now serving tomatoes on our hamburgers and chicken sandwiches upon request only. The decision was difficult to make, but necessary.”
Other corporations like McDonald’s and Jack-In-The-Box have continued business as usual, commenting that the tight supplies have not impacted their restaurants.
Tech, however, is seeing some pressure. Dining Services gets its produce from T&T Produce out of Georgia. The company’s website has listed ‘watches’ for spinach and arugula, stating shortage situations have not improved.
In addition, The California Farm Bureau Federation said supplies have not only dropped for tomato crops, but also bell peppers, cucumbers and lettuce.
Students can expect the tomato shortage to continue until mid-April. It is estimated that the new crops of tomatoes will be made available at this time.