New variety stokes interest in Florida tomatoes

12/06/2011 01:54:00 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

PALMETTO, Fla. — A new variety is stirring interest in Florida tomatoes.

Amelia FreidlineThe Tasti-Lee variety is starting to hit grocery store shelves. The vine-ripe hybrid tomato is touted as outperform other varieties in flavor, freshness and health attributes Entering its first year of commercial production, the University of Florida-developed Tasti-Lee variety is starting to hit grocery store shelves.

The vine-ripe hybrid tomato’s genetics allow it to consistently outperform other varieties in terms of flavor, freshness and health attributes, according to University of Florida breeders.

Wimauma-based Red Diamond Farms, a division of Tomato Thyme Corp., is one of three entities licensed to grow and distribute the trademarked variety.

Michael Lacey, Red Diamond Farms’ director of sales and marketing, said Tomato Thyme’s customers expressed strong interest in the variety’s taste through sampling at the company’s booth during the Oct. 14-17 Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit 2011 in Atlanta.

“The tomato is grown for its durability and stability on the retail shelf,” Lacey said.

“Every time you cut it, it’s bright red in crimson color. We took a beefsteak tomato, a tomato on the vine and Tasti-Lee. Every single time we cut it, every one of ours cut bright red. It also has 40% higher lycopene than your average tomato, a big selling point.”  

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences’ Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm developed the tomato through a decade’s worth of breeding.

As it does with the other varieties it develops through its breeding program, Immokalee-based Lipman planted some Tasti-Lee tomatoes in its test plots. Gerry Odell, chief operating officer of farming and packing, said the variety didn’t do well.

“We have our reservations about it,” Odell said.

“We don’t see any particular reason to grow it. I’m not saying it’s not a good variety. It’s just that it isn’t as promising for us.”

Though Lipman maintains substantial participation in all the varieties, Odell said the vertically integrated grower-shipper continually adjusts its mix and acreage as it feels and anticipates changes in markets.

While others have struggled with romas, West Coast Tomato Inc. has thrived.

“Roma demand has been good for us,” said Bob Spencer, vice president and sales manager.

“We have been very fortunate. We have a product people want and it’s been a good product for us. We have been fortunate romas have been a very profitable segment of our tomato market. We continue to work hard in growing our romas.”


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