(Oct. 28) ORLANDO, Fla. — When four hurricanes raked Florida in the span of six weeks earlier this year, few outside the Sunshine State probably had any idea what impact it would have on supplies of tomatoes.

Now they’re finding out. With more than 50% of Florida’s early fall tomato crop destroyed or heavily damaged by the storms, and with wet weather in California and a pest infestation in the Baja region of Mexico, fresh tomatoes are getting tougher to find.

While consumers have seen retail prices reaching $3 per pound and higher in some cases, U.S. restaurant chains have been forced to make adjustments in their operations to allow for fewer supplies.

Several have changed their menus to compensate for the drop. Others don’t plan any major changes but are closely monitoring the situation.

Wendy’s International Inc., Dublin, Ohio, has switched gears on its national advertising campaign because of the shortage.

Spokesman Denny Lynch said the company had planned to market its Chicken Temptations sandwiches, which are topped with a slice of tomato. Instead, it will concentrate on promoting its kids meals and homestyle chicken strips.

Mike Bernstein, director of media and communications for Darden Restaurants Inc., Orlando, the parent company of the Olive Garden and Red Lobster chains, said the company planned neither significant changes in its menu selections nor price increases to cover higher tomato costs.

“We don’t expect any large-scale changes in our recipes or menu,” Bernstein said. “We have made some minor changes to menus in some geographic locations, depending on supplies, but no price increases.”

Bernstein said Darden is considering other alternatives for supplies but wouldn’t say what they might be.

Burger King Corp., Miami, said it was going ahead with plans to promote its TenderCrisp chicken sandwich, which has two tomato slices.

“We are not out of tomatoes,” said Burger King spokeswoman Laina Kawass. “We do have a contingency plan in place, but we can’t release details on that.”

Burger King and Subway plan to place signs in restaurants if their supplies of tomatoes run short.

Tina Fitzgerald, a buyer for Independent Purchasing Cooperative, which buys fresh produce for Subway, said the sandwich chain would not alter prices or menu items.

“We’ll say that we’re temporarily out in case of a shortage or if the quality of the produce is bad,” Fitzgerald said. “Food safety comes first.”

Chris Arnold, a spokesman for McDonald’s Corp., Oak Brook, Ill., said its Chipotle Mexican chain is considering options on salsa recipes that use fewer tomatoes. Arnold said there also is a possibility of “rolling blackouts,” in which certain markets around the country would not offer salsa one day out of the week.

Among the options for additional product could be greenhouse-grown tomatoes from Mexico that have been streaming across the border through Nogales, Ariz., in increasing numbers since Oct. 9.

According to the Agricultural Marketing Service, imports expanded from 900,000 pounds on Oct. 16 to 1.9 million pounds Oct. 23 with active trading. No market had been established, but quality was good.

Tom Gilardi, director of marketing and sales for Kaliroy Produce Inc., Nogales, Ariz., said the price on single-layer cartons of beefsteak tomatoes size 32-18s was $20.35 on Oct. 28. The company was selling 35s for $18.35, 39s for $17.45 and 42s for $15.

“We’re the only show in town right now,” Gilardi said. “We’ve got loads of supplies, and they’re going all over the country.”

During the last week of October, f.o.b. prices on 25-pound cartons of mature-green 85% U.S. One or better 5x6s were $36.20 on diminishing shipments out of the eastern shore of Virginia. Prices on 25-pound cartons of mature-green 85% U.S. One or better 5x6s from north Florida were $26.20-27.20, with generally good quality.

Sales were active, with slightly higher prices, on product from Southern California and Mexico through Otay Mesa, Calif. Vine-ripes in two-layer 4x4 and 4x5 sizes were $22.84-24.90, while 5x5s and 5x6s were mostly $20.85.