MAITLAND, Fla. — Florida’s tomato industry is preparing retailers and foodservice buyers for the upcoming spring tomato crop.
Though Florida’s growing and shipping season runs October through June, the Florida Tomato Committee invests most of its promotional efforts in April and May to promote the fruit during the year’s peak production months.
Sales of mature-green tomatoes are low from late December through early March and are the lowest in late June, according to the committee.
This year, however, the organization plans to begin promotions a little earlier to keep the interest going longer, extending Florida’s spring window, said Samantha Daves, the committee’s director of education and promotion.
While she wasn’t at liberty to release details, Daves said the committee is planning a large spring foodservice promotion.
Throughout the year and in the fall, the committee promotes the Sunshine State’s tomatoes to foodservice buyers and retailers.
In produce aisles, it provides retail produce managers custom options that can include in-store radio and sales and display contests, Daves said.
Colorful tear-off recipe pads provide shoppers information on how to prepare uncomplicated dishes featuring tomatoes.
For example, tomato caprese is a small salad of sliced tomatoes that is festively colored, and Florida tomato salsa incorporates other fresh items from the produce aisle, she said.
The salsa recipe represents a way supermarkets can provide fresh and simple recipes to consumers, and because recipes incorporate other produce items, including avocadoes, the recipes help drive sales, Daves said.
The color contrast of bright red tomatoes, cilantro and green bell peppers helps cross-promote other produce, she said
To maintain quality food preparation and ordering, a variety of education support materials offer foodservice buyers and retail produce managers information on ripening, handling and menu development, Daves said.
Those tools include a worksheet to instruct buyers on properly procuring tomatoes, she said.
The committee is adding more information to its website, www.floridatomatoes.org, and plans to expand social media use, Daves said.
The monthly Tomato Dish newsletter provides information on tomato use, preparation, links to studies and information on health benefits as well as updates on harvest to about 600 subscribers.
Because of limited resources, the committee promotes Florida field-grown round tomatoes in the Southeast amd Northeast.
“The tomato category is very complex and extremely competitive,” Daves said. “It may be the most competitive category in the produce department.
“If you look at the country, round field-grown tomatoes still have a presence here,” she said. “We are maintaining but it’s difficult. There are a lot of designer-type tomatoes that are flashy but they’re not the foundation of the category, which is the round, field-grown tomato.”
In recent years, the committee invested $535,500 in education and promotion programs.
Daves said she expects a similar amount for this year’s promotions.