Grower-shippers offer alternatives to mature-green tomatoes - The Packer

Grower-shippers offer alternatives to mature-green tomatoes

07/18/2014 10:14:00 AM
Tom Burfield

Tomatoes seem to have found their niche in thefoodservice sector, grower-shippers say.

San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce is constantly trying new varieties for retail, said John King, vice president of sales.

The firm takes customer requests for attributes like flavor, interior color and firmness to its genetics companies for possible incorporation into new varieties, King said.

Andrew & Williamson Fresh ProduceIsaac Duarte, specialty packing operations manager for San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce, is responsible for ensuring customers specific tomato needs are met at the farm and packing shed, says John King, vice president of sales.Historically, genetics companies focused on the farmers’ desires for qualities like disease resistance and yields, he said.

“We really need to make sure we have our customers’ needs out front as well,” he said.

Overall, foodservice demand across the country is steady, said Jeff Dolan, field operations manager for The DiMare Co., Newman, Calif. However, there may be some fluctuations based on supplies and varieties, he said.

For example, if supplies of a certain type of tomato are off in a certain district, demand may increase.

Foodservice customers of Andrew & Williamson want a better-tasting tomato, so they’re moving toward varieties like the red grape tomatoes, King said.

There’s also demand for vine-ripe roma tomatoes with their ruby red interiors and exteriors. And round vine-ripes fulfill consumers’ desire for a tomato that tastes better than the mature-green, so that category is expanding, as well, he said.

For Nogales, Ariz.-based Bernardi & Associates, foodservice business is up compared to a few years ago and restaurants seem to be continuing to buy more tomatoes.

“They want the best quality, and they need shelf life,” he said.

There is across-the-board demand for all varieties, he said.

Up to 8% of the tomatoes that Delta, British Columbia-based greenhouse grower Windset Farms produces at its facility in Santa Maria, Calif., go to the foodservice sector, said Jeff Madu, director of sales.

That includes some major fast-food chains that use the tomatoes on their burgers.

The mass-market foodservice sector in the last year or two has turned its attention to greenhouse tomatoes in a big way, said David Bell, chief marketing officer for Vancouver, British Columbia-based Houweling’s Tomatoes.

“We expect this trend to rapidly increase with the only stumbling block being the higher cost of production translating into higher f.o.b. prices,” he said.

Bell said he’s seeing foodservice accounts that traditionally turned to greenhouse product for consistent supplies and for food safety reasons now buying greenhouse products because of their good taste, as well.

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