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Photo report from Village Farms, Delta BC visit

“Flavor is key differentiator during tomato trialing process”

The Canadian greenhouse season is in full swing. FreshPlaza visited with Village Farms at its Delta, BC location where 85 acres of different tomato varieties are grown in two greenhouses. On a sunny afternoon Assistant Grower, Leesa Garnett and Director of Brand Marketing & Communications, Helen Aquino, hosted a tour of the greenhouse where bright red and orange colors stand out.

“We only grow tomatoes at this Delta location, no peppers or cucumbers,” mentioned Garnett. A lot of snacking and specialty tomatoes including grape, cherry, and mini san Marzano tomato varieties as well as TOV, Beefsteak and Romas. “Most varieties were planted in week 52, just before Christmas,” said Garnett. “By week 30, most of the growing is done, but we will continue to maintain the plants and harvest through November.” 

Leesa Garnett and Helen Aquino in front of the Heavenly Villagio Marzano variety.

Trialing varieties
In addition to the 12 varieties Village Farms commercially grows in Delta, many more varieties are trialed. “When trialing a variety, we look at several different parameters,” said Garnett. “From a grower’s perspective, we ask ourselves the question if we can grow the variety and if it offers the yields we are looking to get. If a variety can grow in one controlled environment, that doesn’t mean it can grow in another,” she added. From a customer’s point of view, flavor and shelf-life are key. “Flavor is a key differentiator as taste is so important to us, and to consumers. Heavenly Villagio Marzano® is an example of a variety that successfully delivers on all parts of the value chain.”

Lip Smackn’ Grape variety.

Peelable top seal packaging
For each variety, Village Farms offers about 12 different SKUs. “It all depends on how the customer wants it,” said Aquino. “We are pushing top-seal packaging as it offers many benefits to retailers. They can merchandise more units per square foot and stack five high, which means less re-stock and less labor costs. Another important benefit of peelable top seal is that it is tamper proof. As a customer, you know if a product was opened or not when you buy it.”

At the packing line, Aquino explains how bulk tomatoes such as TOVs, Beefsteak and Roma get a PLU sticker with a barcode on it. “Retailers are starting to adopt barcodes and the impetus is the increasing number of self-check-out stands at the retailer level,” shared Aquino. For customers, it is easier to scan a code at the register versus typing in a PLU code. A barcode also supports retailers in tracking their sales down to the brand level. “At Village Farms, we work with AC Nielsen scanner data and the barcode (RSS on PLU variable weight items and UPC on fixed weight items) gives us insight into how different varieties are doing in the market and if consumers prefer greenhouse-grown versus field-grown tomato brands. While tracking to the brand level is possible with RSS and UPC, it is not with PLU.” Another retailer benefit of doing away with PLU is eliminating register miss-rings due to wrong codes being entered. This problem is solved with RSS and UPC. 

Tomatoes on-the-vine

Helen L. Aquino
Village Farms
Tel: (+1) 407-936-1190 x312

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