A Tomato Shortage May Be on the Way Soon — Here’s Why

published Aug 22, 2022
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cherry tomatoes in bowl
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What seems to be an endless string of supply chain-related food shortages have compelled many of us to adjust our grocery lists, and, our expectations. Now joining the ranks of avocados, cream cheese, chickpeas, and potentially olive oil, comes another key ingredient in short supply: tomatoes. This versatile vegetable (or fruit, some may argue) is a recipe staple due to its versatility (think: tomato paste, tomato sauce, ketchup, tomato juice, to name a few), but you may have trouble finding them soon.

California is not only responsible for 25 percent of the global tomato output, but a leader in tomato processing. As the state faces its worst drought in over 1,000 years, however, tomato farmers fear for their crop. Climactic pressures aren’t the only factors threatening production though. Labor shortages, rising fuel costs, and fertilizer expenses, coupled with increased demand, has put immense strain on the supply and consequential price of tomatoes and tomato-based products. The cost of growing and processing an acre of tomato crop has increased to $4,800 today as compared to $2,800 just 10 years ago.

As California’s weather woes worsen, parts of the state have restricted groundwater use to conserve water as reservoirs drop to concerningly low levels. With hotter and drier conditions on the horizon, market researchers anticipate tomato-based inflation to continue, outpacing other U.S. food inflation averages. In fact, market research has already shown steep increases in the price of tomato-based products, with salsa up 13 percent and ketchup up 23 percent in the past year alone.

Regardless, the companies behind our favorite tomato-based foods are seeking innovative ways to compensate for the California growing conditions. Kraft Heinz, for one, is implementing a strategy to “[uncover] new regions to source tomatoes,” and to explore unique approaches to breeding more drought-resistant tomato seeds. 

With proactive measures such as these, consumers may still expect to enjoy their favorite tomato-inclusive products, just at a higher price. However, it doesn’t hurt to stock up now given the possibility of another frozen pizza shortage.