Low tomato prices not attracting consumers

KUALA LUMPUR - The price of tomatoes may be plummeting due to a supply glut but demand is not going up - simply because it's a perishable fruit.

Produce seller Vege Tan, 41, said consumers were not capitalising on the value-for-money option as it wasn't a commodity that was usually bought in large quantities.

"That's because tomatoes can't be kept at home for more than five days," said the trader who operates at the Taman Tun Dr Ismail wet market here.

Tomatoes, he noted, were selling at RM2 (S$0.77) per kg - the lowest price in two years.

"Three months ago, it was RM4 to RM5 per kg," he added.

However, his profit margin has increased, as suppliers are frantically trying to sell off the excess stock.

Tan, who sells hydroponic tomatoes, said varieties like Roma or Momotaro were still expensive.

Another vendor, who declined to be named, said she had been selling tomatoes for between RM3 and RM3.50 a kg.

She, too, agreed with Tan that tomatoes didn't keep well "unless you're making paste".

She said farmers were trying to bring up the price and expected an increase of one or two ringgit in a few weeks.

Low Shao-Lyn, of permaculture social enterprise Eats, Shoots and Roots, urged consumers to buck the trend of eating foreign vegetables and opt for what was plentiful.

"People should eat more locally grown varieties," she said.

Low acknowledged that while it was difficult to know what was in season in Malaysia because of its weather, going to a wet market would quickly reveal what products were bountiful.

"There are always ways to turn produce into something else.

"Tomatoes spoil quickly but they don't need to be thrown away: you can turn them into sauce.

"You can freeze them or even use them as compost," she suggested.

Chef Darren Teoh said tomatoes could be dried or used to make salsa, sauces or jams.

"The average person can make a huge batch of sauce at home. It is healthier and more economical. Plus, you can create an endless variety of different combinations," he added.

Tomatoes are known to be one of the world's healthiest foods, good for a heart-healthy diet and packed with antioxidants.

They can also help lower cancer risk and improve bone health.