At Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda Market,1 kilogram of the red fruit was offered Sunday for NIS 8-12.80 ($2-3.20), and prices are expected to climb even more this week.
The prices of other vegetables are skyrocketing too: Peppers were sold for NIS 13-14 ($3.25-3.50), cucumbers for NIS 6-7 ($1.50-1.70), carrots for NIS 5-6 ($1.25-1.50), and cabbage for NIS 10 ($2.50).
The most outrageous price was asked for leeks – NIS 25 ($6.30) per kilograms – due to the high demand for this vegetable ahead of Rosh Hashana.
Luckily, the prices of leaf vegetables and herbs remain reasonable: Lettuce is offered for NIS 3.90 ($1), parsley for NIS 1.90 ($0.50) and basil for NIS 3.90 ($1).
"These holidays it's advisable to prepare a rich green salad rather than a chopped vegetable salad," says Naor Hasid, who owns several stands at Tel Aviv's Carmel Market. "We are amazed by these prices as well."
It should be noted, however, that the price of tomatoes in the wholesale market stood at NIS 8.50-9.50 ($2.14-2.40) per kilogram on Sunday, so the merchants are also earning a pretty penny at consumers' expense.
Supermarkets are settling for smaller profits at the moment. The Shufersal chain sold tomatoes on Sunday for NIS 9.99 ($2.50), while Mega offered them for NIS 9.90 ($2.25). Rami Levy customers can buy tomatoes for NIS 2.90 ($0.73) if their total basket of products costs more than NIS 100 ($25).
Farmers: No fields, no labor
Israeli farmers have provided a series of excuses for the tomato shortage, which led to the dramatic price hike – starting with weather damages, through foreign labor cuts, to the profit being made by the merchants and supermarket chains.
"Throughout the summer we experience extremely hot days, which badly damaged the tomato crops," explains Zvi Alon, CEO of the Plants Production and Marketing Board. "In order to protect themselves from dehydration, the plants lose the flowers, and the tomatoes simply cannot grow."
Another problem affecting the shortage is the government's decision to reduce the number of foreign workers.
"Because tomatoes require a lot of labor, many farmers have shifted to other crops. This is a direct result of the labor cuts the government is imposing on us. Had there been more tomato fields, we could have overcome the weather damages," explains Meir Tzur, secretary-general of the Moshavim Movement and chairman of the Israel Farmers Federation.
Tzur himself has shifted from growing tomatoes to growing red peppers, but that has not made peppers any cheaper. In supermarkets they were offered Sunday for NIS 14 ($3.50) per kilogram. The reason, according to Tzur, is that there are not enough pepper fields to meet demands.
"I estimate that within about two weeks we'll have peppers from the new fields, the quantity in the market will increase and that will bring prices down," he says.
Another reason for the price hike, according to farmers, is the increasing demand ahead of the holidays, which will be longer than usual this year as they begin immediately after the weekend.
"The prices are affected mainly by mediation gaps, and everything else is just excuses and justifications by all the elements in the production and supply chain," says movement member Eyal Ofer.