Gail Balkcom of Columbus awoke Tuesday with a taste for some juicy tomatoes but had to pay a little bit more when she arrived at the supermarket.
Balkcom spent almost $3 a pound for tomatoes at the Piggly Wiggly Supermarket on River Road instead of the usual $1.59 a pound. Prices on tomatoes and other produce have increased at least 20 percent or more after an unexpected freeze in Mexico Feb. 3-4 while producers already were dealing with an earlier freeze in Florida.
“It’s bad but I like my tomatoes,” Balkcom said while waiting for a taxi outside the supermarket. “I use them for sandwiches.”
Jasper Mount of Columbus didn’t notice a difference in prices but had heard they would spike.
“Well, I’m not rich,” he said. “I heard the news the other day about the report.”
In addition to all types of tomatoes, the list of affected produce includes beans, cucumbers, bell peppers, yellow squash, zucchini squash and eggplant, said Woodrow Clay, assistant produce manager at Piggly Wiggly.
“The quality is nowhere near what it was,” Clay said. “We’ve thrown away a lot more stuff.”
Sandra Paulk, who purchased some cabbage and other items at Marvin’s Market on Veterans Parkway, is looking for answers to the hike in produce prices.
“What can we do?” Paulk asked. “You’ve got to get another job.”
Most pieces of produce are going up 20 to 30 cents, depending on the item, Clay said. He expects the hike to linger for three to four weeks until supply rebounds.
“Customers have complaints,” Clay said. “It is what it is.”
While most produce sellers are seeing spikes, Walmart on Airport Thruway hasn’t had increases in produce prices but experienced a general lack of available products, said Harrison Banks, general manager at Walmart.
“The availability has been affected somewhat,” Banks said. “Some items we had an abundance of, it was kind of scarce. It affects demand and how much you are going to have at your store.”
Walmart also buys in bigger volume than other sellers of produce.
“They buy two bundles where we buy 100 bundles of bell peppers,” Banks said of other smaller businesses.
Willie Harvey, owner of Garden Fresh Produce on Buena Vista Road, said Florida was a major supplier for produce in the region when businesses were impacted by the Mexico freeze.
“Mexico keeps going up because of the supply and demand,” Harvey said. “Demand is still the same and there is no other supply.”
To keep customers, Harvey said he’s struggling to keep prices slightly lower on tomatoes, squash and other items than grocery stores because he only sells produce.
“I try to keep mine under the cost of local grocery stores because people are coming here mainly for the produce,” Harvey said.
He said the shortage caused by the freeze is a loss for all.
“You got a big loss,” Harvey said. “It’s just a big loss. Everybody -- lose, lose, lose.”