Fresh green beans virtually have disappeared from Washington-area grocery stores as a result of last month's freezing temperatures in Florida.
"We're out of business as far as string beans are concerned," said Giant food stores spokesman Barry Scher. "The best we can guess is that they'll be back on the shelves in about three weeks."
Grand Union also reported no string beans available, but Safeway stores are getting "just a few out of Arizona." Florida is the Washington area's major supplier of green beans during the winter.
"When I say a few string beans, I mean just a few," said Tony Statom of Safeway stores. "We ordered 400 bushels from Arizoan and we got only 36."
What string beans that are available are selling for about 69 cents a pound - the highest price many produce managers ever remember for the vegetable. While the fresh variety is off the vegetable stands, shoppers apparently are buying more canned and frozen beans.
"Our frozen foods manager has ordered twice his normal order of frozen beans," said Jim Burke of the Giant store at Lyon Village in Arlington.
The Florida frost responsible for the disappearance of green beans also affected many other vegetables and citrus fruits. They are in shorter supply in the area, but still available at somewhat higher prices than normal.
Some produce, like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and eggplants are coming from Mexico, but cost more partly because of shipping costs along the 3,000-mile route to East Coast markets.
"We could have bought green beans from Mexico, but elected not to at the wholesale prices they were going for," said Thomas Gallahan, produce merchandising and sales manager for Grand Union. "Those Mexican beans (a cross between a string bean and a Kentucky Wonder pole bean) would have entered out warehouse at 90 cents a pound. It would have been an insult to the public to sell them at over $1 a pund in our stores."
Charles Porter, a vegetable specialist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Florida growers planted about 14,000 acres of green beans this winter, all of which were ruined by the January frosts.
"But assuming the weather stays normal for awhile, Florida should have another gren bean crop ready to go sometime in mid-March," Porter added "Beans and other vegetables should come down in price with a big bang in April, when Florida starts supplying us more of its produce again, instead of far-flung places liek Mexico and the Bahamas."