Just like its neighbor north of the border, a cooler-than usual spring delayed the Baja California tomato crops in Mexico, but early varieties have been coming north since early May.

While a little behind, San Diego-based Royal Flavor LLC cranked up in mid-May, said sales manager Steve Yasuda. Romas started in early May.

That’s about a week later than the Royal Flavor harvest began in 2009.

The company will bring in romas and rounds from three regions of Baja California with supplies available into December, Yasuda said. The volume will be at least as large as the 2009 deal, he said, and he said he expects increases in roma production.

Royal Flavor’s Baja romas are shade house-grown, but the rounds are grown in hothouses, Yasuda said.

Most of the tomatoes marketed this season by J. Michael & Co., Encinitas, Calif., also will be sourced out of Baja, said salesman Wayne Nakaji.

It is the same scenario for Carlsbad Produce Inc., Carlsbad, said Tim Biggar, salesman.

“We’ll market grape, cherry, vine-ripe, romas, rounds — whatever our customers are looking for,” Biggar said.

Those customers, he said, are mostly foodservice and wholesalers.

Packing line opens up options

The changes for 2010 at San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce will mean conventionally grown and organic tomato varieties out of Baja California, and they’ll be shipped in a wide range of packaging.

The company’s new Viscaino packing facility was completed last year, but all the packing line equipment was not installed in time for the fall season. It is now.

“We have a full roma packing line, a full round packing line and a full grape packing line in addition to our full cucumber line,” said Mark Munger, vice president of marketing.

Completion of the packing lines reinforces the company’s customer-direct program, Munger said, which is designed to minimize how often and how many people touch the product and how quickly Andrew & Williamson can get the tomatoes from field to fork.

New packs

The new packing lines are not the only capital investment the company made in the Viscaino operation.

“As part of our customer-direct strategy, we have invested in other packaging machines so that we can better serve our customers,” Munger said.

The new equipment enables the plant to package romas in 1-pound clamshells, 2-pound clamshells, a four-count overwrap and a 1-pound bag. There’s also a two-count round overwrap.

“We’ve invested in enough technology that we can custom pack any of our tomatoes to any type of package that works best for our customer,” Munger said.

Another new entry on the Andrew & Williamson inventory this season is the Grab-and-Go bags of grape tomatoes that the company introduced last fall. In addition to the 7-ounce snack pack of grape tomatoes, the company offers a 16-ounce bag and a 2-pound bag for club stores.

The company believes the snack packs offer the potential for sales growth, especially on the West Coast. That’s because small bags of grape tomatoes were introduced on the East Coast a few years ago, Munger said.

“The consumption of grape tomatoes as snacks back East is still about twice the per capita consumption compared to the West Coast,” he said.

Andrew & Williamson’s organic grape varieties, started on Mexico’s mainland, have been moved permanently to Baja California, Munger said.

“We’re now shipping organic roma, grape and cherry tomatoes year-round,” he said.

The company is not yet finished with new products from Mexico. After several years of testing and working with seed companies, Andrew & Williamson will begin marketing other-than-red tomatoes this fall. At least two new colors will be introduced, Munger said. 

“Whether we’ve struck on the right colors and taste will be up to the consumers, but I think we’re on the right track,” he said.