Record-breaking cold in Florida and other parts of the Southeast is causing prices and demand to climb for everything from tomatoes to strawberries shipping from California and Mexico.

More than a week of cold has damaged Florida’s winter produce in a range of commodities, including citrus and tomatoes. For many California-based produce companies this means more orders to fill and higher prices but limited supplies available for additional noncontract requests.

Freeze pushes up demand for California, Mexico produce

The Packer

A sign in the produce aisle at a Harris Teeter store in Charlotte, N.C., Jan. 14 alerts customers to shortages in almost a dozen fruits and vegetables because of Florida freezes. The lack of supplies could last up to a month, according to Harris Teeter.

Mark Munger, vice president of marketing for San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce, said starting the week of Jan. 11 the company began receiving calls about tomatoes from buyers it doesn’t usually serve.

Munger said Andrew & Williamson ships roma, round and cherry tomatoes exclusively from Mexico in the winter and is taking whatever extra orders it can for customers that usually buy from Florida.

Most of the company’s produce is sold under contract, Munger said, so the amount of produce left for the open market isn’t much.

“We’d like to see stable markets and produce coming from all these regions,” Munger said.
Though damage to Florida produce may not turn out to be as bad or as widespread as initially reported, Munger said it may take up to 60 days before Florida tomato growers recover and have another tomato crop available.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Jan. 13 that 4x4s of tomatoes from Mexico were selling for between $14.95-16.95.

Russ Widerburg, sales manager for Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, Calif., said the company is taking more orders than usual due to the freeze for everything from parsley and leeks and strawberries, for which prices have soared the highest. Widerburg said strawberries usually sell for around $12 this time of year but are going for close to $24.  

“We are enjoying better markets out here,” Widerburg said.

Widerburg said he’s expecting higher demand and prices to last through January as Florida rebounds from freeze losses.

USDA reported Jan. 13 prices for flats strawberries shipping from Oxnard were $24-$28. Flats of strawberries shipping from Mexico were going for $20-22.90.

Demand for lettuce shipping from the deserts of California and Arizona is also up due to damage for iceberg and romaine crops in Florida.

Steve Church, vice president of operations for Church Bros. LLC, Salinas, said the company is taking extra orders for its winter lettuce due to freezing temperatures in Florida, though demand from consumers at the retail level for lettuce has been off from cold weather along the East Coast.

Kevin Batt, greenhouse category manager for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, which markets product for Guadalajara, Mexico-based Divemex SA, said cold weather has also held back production of greenhouse items.

Pepper sizes in particular had been affected by cold weather in the Culican, Sinaloa, growing region, Batt said.

“There are a lot more smaller bells, No. 2s,” he said.

Also, if the green bell market spikes, more peppers initially targeted for colored bell markets could be harvested early, potentially meaning fewer colored bells down the road, Batt said.

In terms of demand, if Florida’s freeze-related vegetable losses are severe enough, mar-kets for Mexican vegetables coming through Nogales could strengthen significantly, Batt said.

“From a market perspective, everyone’s kind of holding their breath,” he said.

Markets Editor Andy Nelson contributed to this article.