Tomatoes playing catch-up at Wendy's

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By Steve Doyle

Yes, we have no tomatoes. We have no tomatoes today.

Well, the signs at Wendy’s restaurants in Shelby County sort of say that.

They tell customers that tomatoes only will be available on certain items and by request because of a worldwide tomato shortage.

It seems that the tomato crops in central and southern Florida have been devastated by this winter’s deep Southern freezes, and suppliers are short in meeting demands.

In Shelby County ,for now that means Wendy’s.

Tom Long, manager of the store on Taylorsville Road in Shelbyville, said he received an E-mail Feb. 26 instructing him on wording for signs and where to place them.

Basically, only a new bacon-and-blue cheeseburger and a salad that features diced tomatoes are not affected.

Cherry tomatoes are no big deal, either.

The directive came from Wendy’s regional office in Bowling Green, which manages 34 stores in four states, including Long’s and the restaurant in the Pilot Truck Stop at Simpsonville.

“Our suppliers still have tomatoes,” said Bayne Million, vice president of sales and marketing for Wendy’s in Bowling Green. “But they are going to have shortages in the future and are estimating 40 percent of the order volume.

“We are continuing to offer tomatoes on our new items there in Shelbyville, but we ask for our customers’ patience.”

Million said this isn’t a cost issue. The prices his company pays for tomatoes have not risen significantly because suppliers negotiate terms in advance. “But we do expect to see increases in our next bargaining cycle,” he said.

He also said quality was not an issue because those suppliers have strict guidelines, though Long said he has seen a drop-off.

“We’ve gotten a lot of tomatoes that are hard, you know, not ripe,” he said.

Managers at McDonald’s and Hardee’s in Shelbyville said they had no problem with tomatoes, and managers contacted at some of Shelby County’s non-chain restaurants said they had no problems acquiring the tomatoes they needed.

“We have no problem at all,” said Maggie Herrick, owner of Maggie’s Bistro in Shelbyville.

But shortages are being felt around the nation.

Skip Jonas, a compliance officer for the Florida Tomato Committee, told The Ledger in Lakeland, Fla., that about 70 percent of the tomato crops that generally would have been harvested were killed.

That harvest season runs from fall through the end of spring, and Jonas told The Ledger that he didn’t expect harvesting to resume until late this month or April.

Distributors are finding that the shortagesare driving up costs. The Miami Herald reported wholesale prices for a 25-pound box of tomatoes last week were $23.95 to $25.95, about double the average.

And if those distributors are finding that they are having to go out of the country to secure the tomatoes that they require, they find those prices are jumping, too. One cited costs rising from $8 to $16 a box up to $18 to $26.