Chuck Robinson, Assistant Copy Chief
Chuck Robinson, Assistant Copy Chief

NatureSweet Ltd. is onto something with its Homegrown Tomato Challenge, and even more so because one of three events being staged this summer is at Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis.

On Aug. 24, home gardeners will bring three large or 10 small tomatoes of any single variety to Missouri Botanical Garden to be rated by a panel of celebrity judges.

Similar events are planned at supermarket locations this summer: on Sept. 7 at the Arvada, Colo., King Soopers in the Denver area and on Sept. 14 at the Johns Creek, Ga., Kroger in the Atlanta area.

At each event, two grand-prize winners (one each for the small and large tomato categories) will win $2,500 cash, and four $250 gift cards (two for the small and large tomatoes) will go to runners-up.

San Antonio-based NatureSweet began sponsoring its Homegrown Tomato Challenge in 2003. In 2010, NatureSweet broadened the event by adding a contest for home chefs.

To enter the Glorys Tomatoes Chef’s Challenge, which is named for one of NatureSweet’s signature products, consumers tell NatureSweet online why they love cooking with tomatoes. Three finalists in each market will be chosen to participate in a cooking contest using Glorys tomatoes and other ingredients.

NatureSweet takes most of the headaches of arranging these events off of the retailer or botanic garden providing the venue, who are invited to help get the word out with displays and by using point-of-sale materials.

Fun as these events are going to be, and I am sure they will grab the attention of consumers and media in these three regions, that is not the only reason to tip the hat in NatureSweet’s direction.

Another reason is for NatureSweet’s embrace of homegrown tomatoes rather than growling at home garden fare as a competitor.

NatureSweet has a premium product, says Tracy Reeder, event planner for the company. For consumers to be convinced to a premium tomato product, they need to appreciate the sweetness, taste and texture of the product.

“We started thinking, ‘Who really appreciates a good tomato?’” Reeder said. “It’s someone who grows their own tomatoes.”

After all, the best consumer gardener can’t produce a year-round supply.

Nearly all of my friends grow tomatoes but hardly any of them keep up the supply all summer.

Aligning your product with homegrown tomatoes, which carry a lot of prestige as a favorite premium summertime food, seems smart to me.

The tie-in with Missouri Botanical Garden is another smart move.

Botanical gardens across the country are looking for ways to draw patrons. All of them are dedicated to educating the public about many gardening-related topics, including the source of our food.

Like aligning your premium tomato product with homegrown tomatoes, standing along side botanical gardens across the country has a lot to offer a company promoting a high-quality product and few negatives.

In the case of having the 2013 Homegrown Tomato Challenge at Missouri Botanical Garden, three St. Louis retailers are getting the benefits of supporting the event and promoting it. They are Dierbergs Markets Inc., Schnuck Market Inc. and Shop N Save St. Louis Inc.

Missouri Botanical Garden is otherwise dedicated to encouraging home gardeners. In fact, the William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the garden provides home gardeners with instruction, advice and inspiration. The tomato challenge is a good fit for the institution.

With some of my favorite things coming together in an event like this — tomatoes, gardening and Missouri Botanical Garden — I am tickled to be invited to help judge the event on Aug. 24.

We will celebrate vegetable production and encourage more consumption of tomatoes and other vegetables. On top of that, this will be lots of fun.

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