Daily Israel Report

Heat Wave Sends Tomato Prices Soaring

Sky-rocketing tomato prices lead Agriculture Ministry to consider importing from Turkey. At least one charity group is giving tomatoes to the poor.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 10/14/2010, 5:40 PM / Last Update: 10/14/2010, 7:04 PM

Yisrael Cohen

The sky-rocketing price of an Israeli staple, tomatoes, has led the Agriculture Ministry to consider importing the red vegetable from Turkey. At least one charity organization is concentrating its efforts on giving tomatoes to the poor.

Though the average price of tomatoes throughout the year is under 2.5 shekels per kilo (30 cents per lb.), and though they cost just over double that in the critical days before the Rosh HaShanah holiday last month, they now cost 14 shekels and upward per kilogram. The steep jump is attributed to the shortage caused by the late summer heat waves.

A shipload of imported tomatoes arrived this week from Holland, where tomatoes cost the equivalent of approximately 7.5 shekels per kilo. It is too early to tell, however, whether the market will respond with lower prices.  Despite the diplomatic tensions with Turkey, Israel is considering that country as well a possible source for tomato imports.

Nearby Jordan and Egypt, and even Morocco, have also had their tomato crops hurt by the summer heat. Israel charges a 90-agorah tariff per kilo on tomato imports, though this might be waived for large shipments.

Some market chains have added tomatoes to their “extravagant items for one shekel” list. The large and growing Rami Levy supermarket chain has long offered frozen chicken for one shekel per kilo to attract customers, and now the Market Warehouses chain is offering tomatoes for the same price.

The Hasdei Naomi charity organization, which distributes food baskets to 5,000 families, has decided to focus on tomatoes. Its workers and volunteers turned to packing plants, farmers and vegetable sellers, expecting to distribute two tons of the red (sometimes green) vegetable to needy families.

Pears are also expected to be scarce in the coming weeks; the tariff on importing them is two shekels per kilo. Garlic, as well – for which China is a world leader in production – has tripled in price of late, costing Israeli consumers 4-5 shekels per 100 grams (36 cents an ounce) – equal to the import tariff itself.