Greenhouse growers are increasing distribution of specialty tomatoes, peppers, living herbs and other interesting items to appeal to curious consumers.
Mucci Farms, Kingsville, Ontario, expects to begin harvesting in late April its tomatoes on the vine and cocktail tomatoes from a new 15-acre greenhouse expansion, said Joe Spano, vice president of sales and marketing.
The additional acreage was built in response to strong demand for the company’s Sapori cocktail and Sun Drop grape tomatoes.
While field-grown tomatoes were popular for a while, there is now growing demand for hothouse grape tomatoes, even though their prices are higher, Spano said.
It took some experimenting to find the best varieties, but now hothouse grape tomatoes are consistently flavorful and have good shelf life.
Spano said the flavor profile is a top priority for Mucci’s production, and its retailer partners understand the flavor and want it consistently.
Grape tomatoes are becoming more popular with retailers, although they are more often found in upscale markets, Spano said.
"We’re slowly seeing penetration into every market segment," he said.
Leamington, Ontario-based JemD Farms’ Artisan Series is a changeable line of greenhouse-grown vegetables.
The company promotes its Artisan Series as being used in upscale retail markets, well-known restaurants and top chef’s kitchens.
Sabrina Pokomandy, marketing and public relations manager, said the Artisan Series appeals to consumers’ interest in innovative, high-quality produce with unique flavors.
The Artisan Series includes greenhouse-grown eggplant, miniature and conventional-sized cucumbers, and specialty tomatoes, said Jim DiMenna, president.
Pokomandy said specialty tomatoes available this season are cherry tomatoes on the vine, Scarlet Pearl mini grape tomatoes, Farmhouse Heritage heirloom-style tomatoes, Rosado pink tomatoes, and the Chef’s Collection of unconventional tomatoes.
The Chef’s Collection is a mix of bite-sized tomato varieties, including Sakura Honey, Tomato Berry, Sun Gold, Black Cherry and Yellow Pear, she said.
JemD plans to add Cocoa brown tomatoes and Delicasee bite-sized sweet tomatoes soon, Pokomandy said.
The Cocoa tomato, which it expects to be available in mid-April, will likely be packed in a two-pack. Pokomandy described the tomato’s color as "dark, rich chocolate" brown.
All Artisan Series products are available in retail-ready clamshells. The Rosado pink tomato and Farmhouse Heritage tomato also are available in loose packs.
BC Hot House Foods Inc., Langley, British Columbia, is marketing its Blushers-brand sweet pink cherry tomato in a retail-ready 8-ounce clamshell, said Kevin Batt, director of sales.
The deep green calyxes are left on the pink tomatoes, creating a "visually stunning" product, Batt said.
Blushers, with their brix count of about 8.5, are sweeter than typical cherry tomatoes, Batt said.
Blushers are grown in Canada, but if demand exceeds volume, BC Hot House might consider adding production in Mexico.
The company also markets sweet cherry tomatoes on the vine, grape tomatoes and assorted cocktail tomatoes.
Its Tomatogems medley contains a variety of greenhouse-grown premium red and yellow cherry tomatoes.
Delta, British Columbia-based Village Farms International’s Heavenly Villagio Marzano, a mini San Marzano plum tomato, has been so successful that the company plans to increase production of it soon.
"We’ve had excellent response to Heavenly Villagio Marzano," said Doug Kling, senior vice president and chief marketing officer.
"We intend to ramp it up within the next six months."
Kling said the Heavenly Villagio Marzano’s flavor is the key to its success.
"The flavor is outstanding, with the right amount of acidity and sweetness," he said.
Village Farms launched the Heavenly Villagio Marzano last fall. The tomatoes are packed in 10 1-pound gusseted resealable handled bags.
Leamington, Ontario-based Nature Fresh Farms Inc.’s Amorosa cocktail tomatoes and Kiss-brand high-brix multicolored grape tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes and tomatoes on the vine should be in full production by mid-March, said Jay Colasanti, sales and marketing representative.
The company is expected to ship 1.6 million cartons of tomatoes on the vine.
Nature Fresh tested KISS grape tomatoes during the past two years, but this year the product is being launched in a bigger way, Colasanti said.
The tomatoes are consistent in size, flavor and sweetness.
Brix levels regularly test around 10, Colasanti said.
KISS-brand grape tomatoes are packed in single colors in 6-ounce packages or half dry-pints, or as rainbow packs in 12-ounce packages.
Other specialties Nature Fresh plans to market this season are baby eggplant and mini seedless cucumbers, Colasanti said.
In April, BC Hot House expects to ship TasteBuddies-brand red, yellow and orange miniature blocky sweet bell peppers, which will be packed in 1-pound bags.
The mini bells are expected to be available during the summer. Like other small produce items, the mini sweet bells appeal to customers who are looking for healthful snacks, or who want produce that can be quickly prepared, Batt said.
Red, yellow, orange and green hot chili peppers are returning to BC Hot House’s lineup this year, Batt said.
After an absence of about two years, the peppers are being reintroduced in response to customer request.
The peppers are greenhouse-grown in Holland, and a mix of colors is packed in each half-pound zippered bag.
Although field-grown chili peppers are plentiful, Batt said BC Hot House’s greenhouse-grown chili peppers are more uniform in size and shape, and are more attractive.
BC Hot House also is adding mini white-striped eggplant to its line this year, Batt said.
Last year, Mucci introduced its CuteCumber-brand cocktail cucumber.
Smaller than a traditional mini cucumber, which measures about 5 inches, the CuteCumber is typically closer to 3½ inches.
CuteCumbers are grown in Canada, and are expected to be harvested beginning in about late April, Spano said. Pack sizes vary from 7 ounces to 1½ pounds.
Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group is working to expand its distribution of living herbs into the U.S., said Aaron Quon, greenhouse category director.
The program includes living basil, cilantro, rosemary, mint, thyme, sage and dill in miniature pots. The plants are covered with plastic sleeves.
They typically retail for about $3.99, Quon said.
Oppenheimer’s Fair Trade Certified sweet bell peppers from grower Divemex, Guadalajara, Mexico, should be available until about May.
The Fair Trade program is expected to grow and could eventually be a year-round deal.
Quon said Divemex is working to get another growing area certified.