PLANT CITY, Fla. â Tomato prices plunged in late May as Florida returned to the market with big spring volume and lagging sales, with some mature-green f.o.b.s falling 75% in a two-week period.
Batista Madonia IV, who works in operations for East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc., Mulberry, Fla., views roma tomatoes running on the packing line in late May.
On May 26, tomato prices dropped to $4.95 for 25-pound cartons of large, medium and small mature greens, down from $7.95 the day before and well lower than $19.95 in mid-May.
âThe price is killing us,â said Reggie Brown, manager of the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Committee and executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange. âWeâre dying.â
Retailers, foodservice buyers and consumers lowered their buying patterns during winter shortages, Brown said, and the marketplace couldnât quickly absorb the rapid resupply.
The state produced limited volume throughout the winter and early spring after January freezes devastated production and subsequent unfavorable growing conditions hindered spring plant growth.
Packers said prices and demand hadnât caught up to production.
âWe do not have an oversupply of tomatoes,â said Ed Angrisani, partner with Taylor & Fulton Packing LLC, Palmetto. âWe have a normal supply of tomatoes for this time of the year. Itâs like we are having to get the country to start using tomatoes again.â
Angrisani said he expected prices and demand to pick up by early June as major retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., and Publix Super Markets Inc., Lakeland, planned to start running promotions for lower-priced tomatoes.
Growers and packers said they were losing money by selling at abnormally low prices.
âDemand is shameful,â said Batista Madonia Jr., vice president of sales and operations for East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc., Mulberry, Fla. âWe went from a high market to a demoralized market. So much volume came on quickly.â
Note: we have been identifying East Coast as being Plant City-based, as Red Book states. East Coast has an office in Plant City, but its operations are headquartered in Mulberry, which it is close to.
On May 25, Madonia said he was selling large mature greens for $3 plus the $1.95 industry handling charge.
Workers grade roma tomatoes at East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc., Mulberry, Fla., in late May.
Though he said No. 1 tomatoes were being quoted selling for $7.95 and $6.95 for No. 2s, Angrisani on May 26 said prices had fallen by $1.
He said packer sales desks and the tomato committee have been talking to customers for a couple of weeks about the impending return of supplies.
In a May 21 news release, the committee said Floridaâs tomato industry wanted its neighbors throughout the Southeast and the rest of the country to know production has returned with high quality and flavor that is among the âbest in years.â
âItâs a classic pattern of freeze phenomena,â Brown said. âWhen you have a freeze, you have a disaster when the freeze hits. You have a disaster when you return to the marketplace. This is the second wave of the same disaster we had in January.â
The U.S. Department of Agriculture in late May reported May 25 light demand for central and south Florida mature green, cherry and roma tomatoes.
The USDA reported 25-pound cartons of loose mature greens 85% U.S. No. 1 or better selling for $5.95-7.95 for 5x6s, 6x6s and 6x7s.
For cherry tomatoes, the USDA said flats of 12 1-pint baskets with lids sold for $5.95-6.95.
On grape tomatoes, the USDA reported $6.95-7.95 for flats of 12 1-pint baskets; 20-pound cartons of loose grapes sold for $13.95-15.95.
Romas sold for $8.95-9.95 for 25-pound loose cartons of extra large, $7.95-8.95 for large, and $5.95-7.95 for mediums
Because of a later spring start, Angrisani said Taylor & Fulton might pack a week to 10 days later than central Floridaâs normal June 15 ending.
Madonia said East Coast expects to finish on-time, after beginning South Carolina harvesting June 4-10 and before it starts its Virginia harvesting around July 4.
Central Floridaâs volume normally doesnât go much later than mid-June as heat and heavy rains limit tomato harvesting, Angrisani said.