Restaurants of fast food chain McDonald’s have dropped tomatoes from their burgers and wraps in many parts of India, hit by supply shortages and quality concerns after prices of the vegetable soared to records.
In some regions, wholesale prices of the staple of traditional Indian cuisine have surged 288% in a month to a high of 140 rupees ($1.7) a kg on Friday, with retail prices still higher, spurring many people to cut back on consumption.
The government blames the higher prices of tomatoes on a lean production season when monsoon rains disrupt transport and distribution, but it comes after consumers have battled higher prices of items ranging from milk to spices in recent months.
“Despite our best efforts, we are not able to get adequate quantities of tomatoes which pass our stringent quality checks,” read notices posted in two McDonald’s stores in New Delhi, the capital.
“We are forced to serve you products without tomatoes.”
Store managers said the problem was due to quality issues in the supply chain, rather than pricing.
In a statement to media, Connaught Plaza Restaurants, which runs about 150 outlets as McDonald’s franchisee in India’s north and east, attributed the decision to “temporary” seasonal issues.
However, Westlife Foodworld, the McDonald’s franchisee for India’s western and southern regions, with 357 restaurants, said there were “no serious tomato-related issues”.
The problem was seasonal and forced 10% to 15% of its stores to stop serving tomatoes temporarily, it said.
McDonald’s Delhi stores still offer sachets of tomato ketchup, however, and a nearby Subway restaurant said there were no issues serving tomatoes.
In the financial capital of Mumbai, vegetable vendor Vijay Sharma said sales had fallen off from the 40 kg (88 lb) he used to peddle each day.
“Most of my customers have stopped buying tomatoes,” he said. “Now, I only bring five kilos.”
As Indians cut back on tomatoes, some businesses suggest alternatives.
“Tomato prices running high? Cook with tomato puree instead!” exhorts an advertisement among the results thrown up by a search for tomatoes on the BigBasket shopping app of the Tata conglomerate.