Seed designers expand specialty tomato market

09/19/2008 12:00:00 AM
Ashley Bentley


Dulcinea Farms, Ladera Ranch, Calif., introduced its Rosso Bruno tomato to the market in April 2006. The greenish-brown tomato becomes red only when it overripens.

(Web Editor’s note: This is the second of a series of articles on seed innovation The Packer plans to publish about once a month. For an extended version of this article, see the Sept. 22 print edition of The Packer).

(Sept. 19, 2:32 p.m.) While disease resistance and yield remain important traits in any tomato seed variety, seed producers are also focusing more on the traits that the end-user notices, such as size, color, texture and flavor.

“So many retailers are trying to dictate exactly what size, color, etc., they’re looking for,” said Bill Kazokas, tomato breeder and station manager for Enza Zaden Research USA Inc.’s Sarasota, Fla., station. The San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based company is a business unit of Enkhuizen, Netherlands-based Enza Zaden.

Specialty tomatoes increase

Although the tomato market is dominated by two main types, rounds and romas, the specialty category is the only one that enjoyed growth last year, said Rod Jorgenson, product business manager for tomatoes for Syngenta International AG, Basel, Switzerland.

“The specialty market is strong, but it’s still small,” said Ted Angell, product development manager for BHN Seed Inc., an Immokalee, Fla.-based fresh market tomato seed breeding company.

“One of the limitations to breeding a big range of everything is that returns aren’t as big on smaller varieties. There’s a limitation to what a company like mine will do in specialties because it’s still a small market.”

BHN develops and sells hybrid tomato seeds to seed marketers.

Jorgenson said some of the most important general tomato qualities have to do with firmness, size, color and gel retention.

As far as size goes, many breeders are seeing a demand for a smaller tomato.

“One of the things we’ve learned through retail groups is that the days of the big slicing tomato are over for many families,” Kazokas said. “If you have a big tomato, half of it gets eaten and the other half rots in the fridge.”

Jorgenson said flavor has a lot to do with why people are looking for smaller tomatoes.

“There’s kind of an inverse relationship between size and sugar,” Jorgenson said. “As you increase size, it’s harder to get sugars and volatiles into the fruit. When you’re talking about flavor, that’s why you’re seeing smaller.”


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