PALMETTO, Fla. — Florida tomatoes play a big role in retail and foodservice sales.
The state’s mature-greens, romas, grapes and cherry tomatoes offer a varied basket of products for retail and foodservice use.
The quick-service segment is driving increasing demand for Florida round tomatoes, said Jon Esformes, operating partner in Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd.
“Some of quick-service chains have had anywhere from moderate to tremendous growth in their use of tomatoes, which is great for consumption,” he said. “Foodservice is looking to go ahead and create some healthier alternatives on their menus to attract larger consumer followings.”
While the greatest demand for mature-greens is in foodservice channels, grower-shippers say retail demand remains consistent.
“Demand is still strong on the foodservice side, and, for those retailers that are using mature-greens, the demand’s still good there,” said Tony DiMare, vice president of the Homestead-based DiMare Co.
Mature-green tomatoes remain an important part of foodservice, said Bob Spencer, vice president and sales manager of West Coast Tomato Inc.
“Demand has been fairly decent,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest in foodservice, but retail is tough. Retail isn’t a big part of this business, but foodservice demand seems to be holding steady.”
Spencer said roma tomatoes are maintaining fairly strong demand.
Though mature-greens remain the king of foodservice, other varieties, including cherries, grapes and romas, retain strong use.
Proper retail merchandising remains important for marketing tomatoes, said Michael Lacey, director of sales and marketing for Wimauma-based Tomato Thyme Corp.
Tomato Thyme suggests retailers merchandise its Handy Candy-branded grape tomatoes in display-ready cases.
When the grower-shipper first began sending product to Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the retailer was concerned the 4-ounce packages Tomato Thyme markets might harm its pint grape tomato sales.
However, the chain found it received the same amount of sales in the pints while enjoying additional sales of its grapes, Lacey said.
“Standalone displays can be merchandised anywhere in the store,” he said. “We encourage retailers to move it up to the register or to the deli for impulse buying.”
Tomato sales in general at the retail level remain competitive, said Rick Feighery, vice president of sales for Philadelphia-based Procacci Bros. Sales Corp. and Plant City-based Santa Sweets Inc.
“There’s a lot of competition out there, including the Mexican and hothouse vine-ripes,” he said.