(July 5) This winter, things could get ugly for consumers of tomatoes.
That would be a good thing.
In a long-overdue move, the way could soon be cleared for Florida winter shipments of heirloom tomatoes in exemption of certain shape standards set by the Florida Tomato Committee, Maitland.
The Agricultural Marketing Service is accepting comments until Aug. 28 on a proposal that would open up shipments of misshapen U.S. No. 2 tomatoes from Florida’s main winter production areas. The proposal would chiefly benefit Procacci Bros. Sales Corp., the Philadelphia-based firm whose subsidiary markets the UglyRipe line of tomatoes.
The AMS, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture overseeing federal marketing orders, should be applauded for finally bringing this matter to a more public forum.
Major Florida mature-green tomato growers have stood in the way of winter heirloom tomatoes because the ugly, but tasty, heirlooms drew attention and market share away from their pretty, but not always flavorful, varieties.
They say heirlooms don’t consistently meet the strict Florida standards, which all imported and domestic tomatoes must do from Oct. 10 through June 15.
Those standards were put in place to keep poor quality imports from flooding the market, a goal accomplished for the most part.
Yet even Florida’s gas-green giants must recognize that Procacci’s UglyRipes are an uncommon beast. They are sought by a different type of shopper, one who may not normally buy any tomatoes during the winter. They certainly will not steal any share from the burger chains and other foodservice operations that rely so heavily on gassed mature-green tomatoes.
To deny a willing consumer of a legitimate produce item is anachronistic and ignores certain market tenets — chiefly, that the consumer is always right.
Retailers and wholesalers who can make a living selling heirlooms during the winter should lend their support to this AMS proposal.