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Bite-Size Bliss


While snacking has become a daily practice for most Americans, a growing number of consumers are looking for healthier options when they nosh between meals. This trend has many turning to tiny tasty tomatoes.

“Consumer demand for fresh, easy, ready-to-use ingredients continues to be on the rise, so we’re seeing a host of new products expanding the category in an attempt to meet these demands,” says Michael Joergensen, VP of marketing for San Antonio-based NatureSweet. “Small-tomato usage continues to increase as consumers focus more on salads and other healthy, on-the-go products.”

NatureSweet’s Constellation package offers a medley of tomatoes for different occasions, including slicing, salad and snacking varieties. The 24-ounce easy-open resealable package is 100 percent recyclable.

“Some of the latest trends we’re seeing include variety packs that offer several different varieties of tomatoes together in one package,” adds Joergensen. “There is also the increased desire for a guaranteed ‘best if used by’ date on products. Consumers are becoming savvier about the different tastes and flavor of tomatoes, so the ability to guarantee the freshest, tastiest product remains front and center.”

At Kingdom Fresh Produce Inc., in Donna, Texas, General Manager Guillermo Martinez sees small and flavorful tomatoes taking the category by storm. “The real trend in the tomato category is flavor,” he affirms. “That is why the snacking tomato category has been growing so much in the last years.”

Seed companies are creating new tomato varieties with high-sugar profiles and big flavor, observes Martinez, who adds, “They have been more successful with small bite-size tomatoes.”

Kingdom Fresh recently launched an organic line, beginning with snack-friendly grape tomatoes. “This is completely new to the company, and we are focusing on expanding our offerings in organics,” Martinez says. The company also redesigned its packaging and website to better communicate the farming practices and people behind Kingdom Fresh tomatoes.

NatureFresh Farms, in Leamington, Ontario, believes so strongly in the traction of the snacking tomato subcategory that it recently launched an entire line of Tomz Snacking Tomatoes. The line includes red, yellow and orange grape tomatoes, as well as red cherry, sweet cocktail and medley varieties.

“Our snacking tomato line has been expanding each year as we continue to bring new varieties to market,” notes Retail Account Manager Matt Quiring. “As a vertically integrated grower and marketer, we are able to maintain a greater level of quality in what we pick, pack and ship to our customers.”

The company is grouping its snacking tomatoes under one distinctive brand with consistent messaging, in an effort to build brand awareness across multiple varieties.

NatureFresh Farms’ introduction of the Tomz line has been made possible by the expansion of the greenhouse acreage at its Delta, Ohio, facility. The family-owned concern currently operates 130 acres in Leamington and 15 acres in Ohio, with 30 additional acres expected to be operational at the latter facility soon.

Greenhouses Yield Growth

Offering a multitude of benefits, from energy and resource efficiencies to climate control to year-round growing consistency, greenhouse-grown tomatoes are redefining tomato cultivation.

“The biggest trend is that greenhouse production is outpacing field options, which allows for year-round production, and the yield is higher,” says Jessie Gunn, marketing manager for the Nogales, Ariz.-based Wholesum Harvest. “This spells a year-round win for retailers.”

In the Sonora high desert, Wholesum Harvest tomatoes are grown in greenhouses, where the plants are fed rich, organic compost teas that provide beneficial micro-organisms. The organic produce supplier also uses a European technology to reduce and reuse water in its greenhouses.

“Greenhouse growing will become increasingly more important now as we prepare for a world where in 2050, there will be more people than the food and resources needed to survive,” asserts Joergensen, of NatureSweet. “In this reality, the future of produce is dependent upon sustainable practices, including hydroponic and containerized growing.”

NatureSweet tomatoes are greenhouse-grown in a controlled environment to ensure year-round consistency. Its greenhouse facilities are located in warm, dry climates that are ideal for providing vine-ripened tomatoes during any season, even in the colder months.

Kingdom Fresh Produce is another supplier experienced in greenhouse growing. Its tomatoes are hydroponically grown in greenhouses in Torreon and Puebla, Mexico. “The advantage of greenhouse-grown product is the ability to control temperature, light, humidity and nutrients,” notes Martinez. “With this, growers can produce more with less — less water and less acreage — but much higher yields.

“The ability to reclaim irrigation water in controlled environments like greenhouses also makes [greenhouse-grown] very desirable to growers,” he adds. “This also has a positive impact on the environment.”

Organic and Fair Trade

With organic produce growing at a rate of approximately 15 percent year over year, Wholesum Harvest has seen a steady increase in sales of its organic hothouse tomatoes.

“I see organic tomatoes as becoming hugely important,” says Gunn. “Our successes in year-round tomato production allow us to price competitively to conventional, so the tiny price gap between conventional and organic means consumers will not only shop in alignment with their health values, but it’s a straight value shop in the organic sector.”

The company’s Organic Espresso Tomato on the Vine features a chocolate outer skin and a rich flavor that lends itself to cooking and salads. The certified-organic tomato, along with Wholesum Harvest’s entire selection of fresh produce, is on the verge of an additional distinction: Wholesum Harvest is the first U.S. farm to apply for Fair Trade certification.

“We are fully expecting to be the first domestic Fair Trade-certified farm by October of this year,” reveals Gunn, who says that the social responsibility of farming is just as important as the environmental component.

“We’ve learned the value of supporting our workers in building their own communities,” he explains, “while we work hard to pay a fair wage and provide training and employee-focused operations.”

“Greenhouse growing will become increasingly more important now as we prepare for a world where in 2050, there will be more people than the food and resources needed to survive.”
–Michael Joergensen, NatureSweet

“The real trend in the tomato category is flavor. That is why the snacking tomato category has been growing so much in the last years.”
—Guillermo Martinez, Kingdom Fresh Produce Inc.

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