Mexican Freeze Drives Up Produce Prices

The combination of the early February freeze in Mexico and recent freezes in Florida and Texas has limited U.S. vegetable supplies and driven prices higher.

DALLAS — The combination of the early February freeze in Mexico and recent freezes in Florida and Texas has limited U.S. vegetable supplies and driven prices higher.

Wholesale prices for Mexican vine-ripe tomatoes sold in Chicago went up from $12 to $14 per 25-pound carton in early February to $28 to $34 per carton this week, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's online agriculture portal. Prices for Mexican green bell peppers have also skyrocketed. One and 1/9 bushel cartons that were selling in the beginning of the month in Chicago for $8 to $12, depending on the pepper size, are now up to $38 to $48 per carton — occasionally selling for as high as $50 per carton.

Supplies and prices of other winter vegetables, such as cucumbers, have also been affected. Due to high prices and low availability, many restaurants are limiting tomatoes on the menu. Wendy's is now only offering tomato slices by request.

Supermarket retailers are determining whether to raise their prices. Dan Bates, director of merchandising for Supervalu [3], told the Wall Street Journal that the retailer may increase its produce prices to cover some of the increased wholesale costs.

In addition, Save-A-Lot sent out an email Wednesday notifying customers that due to weather conditions it can no longer guarantee tomato price and availability advertised in their mid-month circular email.

Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange told Chicago Breaking Business that the December Florida freeze cut normal yields in half and that the Mexican freeze damage assessment is still in progress.