Shortage of fresh tomatoes bugs burger chains
After this summer’s unusually extended rainy season and multiple typhoons, burger chains are struggling amid a nationwide shortage of fresh tomatoes.
Burger chain Lotteria has started to serve burgers without tomatoes, for which they've reduced the price by 300 won ($0.26). Another big burger chain, McDonald's, offers customers a free-drink coupon in exchange for tomato-less burgers.
Burger King, the first fast-food chain to announce difficulties procuring tomatoes, has been compensating with more lettuce, onions and pickles.
According to burger franchises, it’s the first time in history that they've served burgers without tomatoes. The prolonged heavy rainfall coincided with the blossoming of tomato plants, causing the crops to get less sunlight than usual. And powerful typhoons this summer knocked down plants in the main tomato producing regions of Chuncheon, Cheorwon and Hwacheon in Gangwon.
According to the Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation, the wholesale price of 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of tomatoes was about 62,660 won as of Sept. 25, a 110 percent hike compared to a month earlier. Prices were up by 99.6 percent compared with a month earlier.
“A growing number of farmers have been halting tomato production, as lots of their farms were hit by typhoons,” a tomato farmer in Gangwon said. “The prices of tomatoes are expected to keep on rising even after the Chuseok holidays.”
It is likely to take a while until burger chains are able to again serve burgers with tomatoes.
The Korea Rural Economic Institute predicted that the volume of tomatoes being shipped out in October will be reduced by 15 percent compared to a year before. The price of tomatoes will likely stabilize as early as November.
Burger franchises are not the only businesses affected.
“We decided to stop selling tomato juice, as the tomato prices had increased dramatically,” a man who runs a cafe in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, said. “We will also temporarily stop selling any food items containing tomatoes, such as sandwiches.”
Retailers are scrambling to secure orders of tomatoes.
Retailer Emart managed to secure 60 tons of tomatoes from Jangsu and Wanju, both in North Jeolla, to cover anticipated demand during the Chuseok holidays.
“Tomato prices have been reaching all-time highs due to the long rainy season and typhoons,” Koo Jae-hyun, who is in charge of purchasing tomatoes at Emart, said. “We’ve been trying hard to lower the unit prices of tomatoes by buying large quantities, as well as to secure any alternatives.”
Meanwhile, sales of other fruits and vegetables have risen.
According to Emart, avocado sales between Sept. 1 and Sept. 27 soared 120 percent compared to the same period last year. During the same period, sales of lettuce rose 80 percent while sales of frozen blueberries increased 45 percent. Apple sales increased by 22 percent, while broccoli rose by 25 percent and cucumbers by 15 percent.
BY KWAK JAE-MIN, CHEA SARAH [firstname.lastname@example.org]