Pricey Produce Imperils Israeli Market

Tomatoes for sale at a market in Tel Aviv, for those who can afford them. (Flash90)
Tomatoes for sale at a market in Tel Aviv, for those who can afford them. (Flash90)

The soaring prices of fruits and vegetables in the Israel markets are driving away shoppers, according to Globes on Sunday night.

The prices of tomatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, watermelon and other items were cited in a survey of current market conditions.

On Sunday, prices in the supermarkets varied widely from NIS 7.90 to NIS 16.90 per kilo. The price of cherry tomatoes ranged all the way from NIS 9.90 to NIS 19.90 per kilo, according to the Pricez website.

Squash and sweet potatoes were also being sold at a loss in a few supermarkets, while prices in other branches were as high as NIS 15 per kilo for sweet potatoes and NIS 12.90 per kilo for squash.

The wholesale price for watermelon was NIS 4.50 per kilo, so high that one of the supermarket chains decided not order them for the weekend.

One retailer said, “It’s a way of telling us as customers, ‘Don’t buy watermelon.’ We’re not bringing watermelon to the chain anymore, because when a watermelon weights 10 kg, it costs the consumer NIS 50, and the customer says we’re robbing him. It’s better to leave the watermelons with the growers.”

The cause of the high prices was not entirely clear, but several factors appear to account for them:

Shaike Shaked, a tomato grower from Netiv HaAsara, said that many growers had left the sector.

“The number of farmers growing tomatoes in Israel has declined substantially, because it doesn’t pay to be a traditional farmer growing fruits and vegetables in Israel. I warned a year ago, and three years ago, when I said that the standard price for tomatoes would be NIS 10 a kilo, and they laughed at me and ridiculed me. I estimate that half of the growers have left the sector in the past decade. In general, there are less than 8,000 farmers in Israel.”

Hot weather and a virus are to blame for the shortage, he said. “Yes, there’s a virus attacking tomatoes, but that’s not the main reason. Because growing becomes difficult, crops usually become smaller during the summer and become unprofitable, so people stop growing them. The ones who stay demand their price. You won’t find a farmer with 50 dunam (12.5 acres). At most, they grow 10 percent of their area.”

The Ministries of Agriculture and Finance don’t understand the problems of the farmers and have failed to support them, according to Shaked.