Freezing temperatures that hit Florida and Arizona and reached deep into Mexico in the past month have damaged some of Texas shoppers' most common produce items, creating shortages and raising prices of tomatoes, beans, bell peppers, lettuce, cucumbers and squash.
A lettuce disease in Arizona also affected supplies.
Potbelly Sandwich Works in downtown Fort Worth put up a sign saying it was not packing subs with tomato slices because of the situation. Sysco, a major food service distributor, told its wholesale customers that produce suppliers have broken contracts, using a weather-related "act of God" clause, according to its Internet posting.
Sprouts Farmers Market reported in an e-mail announcement that freezing temperatures destroyed 95 percent of the bean crop, 100 percent of openly grown cucumbers, 85 percent of roma tomatoes and 60 percent of the beefsteak variety.
"Grape tomatoes and cherry tomatoes were also a total loss," Sprouts said. "Only vine-on tomatoes seem to have fared well and remain in strong supply."
Like other supermarket chains, Kroger said it has adjusted prices because of the supply problem. But spokesman Gary Huddleston noted that strawberries, which were affected earlier, are now selling cheaper, as are Californian navel oranges, which are in ample supply.
"It's going to get worse before it gets better," says Kyle Sayers of Sayers Farmers Market in Haltom City, which sells both retail to the public and wholesale to the restaurant trade.
Wholesale zucchini sold in the $10 range for a 20-pound box in late January, but is now fetching $40, Sayers reported. Cucumbers have soared from $25 for a 45-pound box to $42 to $45. Eggplants are listed at $50 a case -- "but nobody can find any. We've been out for a week. If you have them, you can name your price," Sayers said.
Sayers said the best values right now are mustard and collard greens from Georgia as well as mangoes, oranges and pineapples.
As for the affected vegetables, he said, "It might start easing up in April, but maybe not till May for tomatoes."
Barry Shlachter, 817-390-7718