Seed designers expand specialty tomato market

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

Six L’s Packing Co. Inc., Immokalee Fla., released an heirloom-type tomato in mid-August it hopes will fill the heirloom void left during winter months. Heirloom tomatoes are generally a summer variety.

“We see consumers and chefs continually looking for a more unique flavor profile of an old-fashioned, backyard tomato,” said Darren Micelle, chief marketing officer for Six L’s. “To offer commercial production will allow us to offer that type of tomato to a broader audience.”

Micelle said he expects the tomato to be a main tomato in the winter for some retailers.

Angell said BHN doesn’t work on heirloom tomatoes because heirlooms are open pollinated fruit.

“What we would do is try to produce what you want in an heirloom, which is taste, and get other qualities into it,” Angell said. “If you have a hybrid that tastes as good as an heirloom but produces more and has disease resistance, the hybrid can make an heirloom better, but it’s technically not an heirloom.”

European roots

Jorgenson said many of the ideas for new tomato varieties come from Europe.

“Europe is a much more differentiated tomato market,” Jorgenson said. “Their use is so much greater. We watch what’s going on and their normal development and we try it here in the U.S.”

Not everything that works in Europe works in the U.S., though.

“A lot of material you bring over doesn’t have a special slot, so those products you want to take downtown and show to chefs and big tomato marketers and say, ‘What can you do with this?’” Jorgenson said. “It’s kind of a new model of business, at least for us, anyway.”

Angell said BHN does its own field trials and goes through seed marketers to test varieties. The company has breeding stations worldwide.

“A round tomato that works in Florida doesn’t work in Mexico, and so on,” Angell said.

The company’s many locations, as well as locations of its marketers, help it to test varieties.

“The tomato becomes very segmented,” said Jeff Siegers, vegetable seed consultant for Siegers Seed Co., Holland, Mich. “Each region wants a different type, and each region can grow differently. You also have two distinctly different markets with rounds and romas.”

Determinate versus indeterminate

Another classification that diversifies the tomato market is whether the seed produces a determinate or indeterminate plant. Romas are an example of a tomato that grows on a determinate plant, also known as a bush plant. These varieties produce a more compact plant, usually around 4-feet tall, their fruit ripens in the same period, usually two weeks, and then they die.



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