(Feb. 14) BERLIN — Necessity is the mother of invention, according to Plato, but produce companies throughout the world are finding that innovation drives sales.

Take the Rainbow Growers Group and Rijk Zwaan, two companies from The Netherlands whose miniature vegetable snack packs and compact head lettuce won the Fruit Logistica Innovation Awards in 2007 and 2006, respectively. Representatives from both companies gave testimonials on Feb. 9 on how those products have seen phenomenal growth following the recognition.

For the third time in the award’s three-year history, another Dutch company, seed company Nunhems Netherlands BV, walked away with the award for its Intense tomato. Michel ten Hacken, the company’s global head of marketing and sales, said the low-juice tomato, launched in March 2007, has caught the attention of Yum! Brands’ Taco Bell in the U.S.

“So far, we’ve had a positive response,” ten Hacken said about the pilot programs in European retail markets. “We see big interest in the U.S. as well.”

The company is pitching the product to the foodservice industry, as a fresh-cut tomato that leaves less mess, but ten Hacken said the Intense variety is also of interest to consumers looking for a sandwich tomato.

The tomato’s size — comparable to a roma tomato — however, is a drawback on the U.S., where quick-service restaurants whose bread and butter is burgers are looking for something that will cover the meat patty, ten Hacken said. That’s why Nunhems is working on an Intense variety that has a larger diameter.

The innovation award’s second place went to the Ur-Gurke, a dark-green organic cucumber that’s a collaboration from The Netherlands-based Eosta BV and Enza Zaden Beheer. The cucumber, launched in June, will be available in German, British and Scandinavian markets, but the company plans to test it in the U.S. in 2008.

Another tomato, the strawberry-shaped Tomatoberry from Japan-based Tokita Seed Co. Ltd., took third place.

Other products among the 10 nominated for the award were France-based Odelis’ Deux, a pack containing two varieties of strawberries; Italy-based Montalbano Technology S.p.a.’s Mtsens radio frequency identification “smart label” that records temperature fluctuations of products in transit; and Germany-based Sealpac’s PerfoTec Lasersystem, a microperforation system designed to help extend the shelf life of produce.

The Innovation Award, sponsored by Messe Berlin and Fruchthandel Magazine, both of Germany, is voted on by Fruit Logistica attendees.

Dutch firm eyes U.S. market for low-juice tomato
Berlin's Fruit Logistica, Feb. 7-9, featured 10 innovative products that hit U.S. and global markets in the past two years. These whole, single fruit packs from The Greenery International, The Netherlands, were designed to fit into vending machines. The company's Fresh Tapas line also includes single-serving fruit cups containing melon, strawberry, apple and tropical fruit mixes.