Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif., is expanding availability of a 5-pound family-size box for romas and vine-ripes that it test-marketed last year, said Scott Albertson, director of marketing.
The company has a mix of retailer and foodservice buyers, and it ships most of its tomatoes in 25-pound, two-layer flats, but sales manager David Cook said he encourages customers to use a one-layer tray instead. The trays can be packed better, and it’s easier on the fruit.
“It’s better for everybody,” Cook said. “The two-layer vine-ripe flat is a dinosaur designed for a smaller pallet.”
The two-layer flat doesn’t fit well on a 40- by 48-inch pallet. While Deardorff makes it work, but it leaves an empty space in the center of the pallet, so it’s not ideal, Cook said. The two-layer flat was designed for a 36- by 48-inch pallet, he said.
Albertson said the company is shipping more of the one-layer trays. In addition to being better for the fruit, it also makes a good merchandising tool, he said. In addition, for retailers who prefer to take the tomatoes out of the box and display them in bulk, it’s easier to remove tomatoes from it, instead of digging through a couple of layers.
Vine-ripe tomato buyers expect to see the tomatoes in two-layer flats, and they ask for them to be shipped that way, Cook said.
“Tomatoes stacked on top of tomatoes — that’s the problem,” he said.
A one-layer flat holds 15-18 pounds of tomatoes. On a per-pound basis, the prices are comparable, Albertson said.
The one-layer tray is more of a retailer-oriented pack than it is a foodservice or wholesale pack because retailers often repack tomatoes in custom boxes, Albertson said.
Deardorff also emphasizes flavor and eating quality in its tomatoes, Albertson said. It picks at high maturity levels and ensure uniform ripeness in a box. If a retailer prefers, Deardorff will ship tomatoes at two stages of maturity, so some are ready to buy, while others can be kept in the back for a couple of days.
“We’re hearing that customers are looking for a true tomato flavor and not excessive wateriness,” he said. “They want something they can bite into and slice and use.”
Deardorff’s tomatoes are field-grown, and Albertson said they offer the “true outdoor-grown tomato” that consumers are looking for. He cited research posted on the Fresno-based California Tomato Farmers’ website, www.californiatomatogrowers.org, that indicated that the majority of consumers prefer field-grown tomatoes, and most of them who purchase field-grown do so because of the flavor.
Albertson said Deardorff contracts a high percentage of its sales, but it is always looking for new customers. He said the company especially likes to build programs for in-store farmers markets for West Coast retailers that want to offer locally grown produce to their shoppers.