Greenhouses have made growing all kinds of vegetables possible in practically any climate. Tomatoes have a significant presence in greenhouses all over the world. Thanks to their greenhouse operations, Backyard Farms, located in Maine, are one of the only producers of year-round tomatoes in New England. They grow three varieties of tomatoes in their facility - On-the-vine (TOV), Beefsteak, and Cocktail tomatoes.
"We began shipping tomatoes in January 2007," said Jim Darroch, of Backyard Farms. "Year-round production of fresh, top-quality tomatoes has been the vision of Backyard Farms since Day 1. All three of our varieties—TOVs, Beefsteaks and Cocktails—are available year-round."
Darroch said that the company was inspired by greenhouses in Holland, where year-round produce in any climate is not only a possibility, but also commercially viable. "Our founders were inspired by the success of Dutch greenhouses and sought to bring that technology to the northeast where the local tomato growing season is extremely short. From there, our focus has been on quality at every phase of the process – from only picking our tomatoes when they’re red and ripe, to only shipping them to retail and wholesale partners within a 12-hour drive of the greenhouse for maximum flavor."
Labor a challenge
Growing tomatoes in New England presents a challenge that many growers across the United States can relate to. Indeed, labor, and not climate is the biggest challenge for Backyard Farms.
"With unemployment at record lows, labor is our biggest challenge," he said. "To attract and retain the dedicated employees we need to grow our products, we do everything we can to maintain a great work environment. In addition to competitive wages, our people enjoy excellent benefits. We also offer tuition reimbursement and an in-house training program called Backyard Farms University where we bring in professors from the local community college to lead courses in everything from plant physiology to business writing."
Relationship with customers
Backyard Farms' tomatoes can be found across many major supermarkets as well as independent retailers across the northeastern United States, from New Jersey to Maine. They sell Beefsteak as well as the On-the-vine tomatoes loose and their cocktail tomatoes in 10oz packages. Additionally, they sell wholesale tomatoes to foodservice companies in a variety of different bulk formats.
Darroch noted that their relationship with retailers is fundamental in providing appropriate training and knowledge in order to present customers with a positive experience. "We’ve always employed a “Store-Out” marketing strategy so our most important partnerships are with our retailers," he said. "We pride ourselves in maintaining true relationships with our retail customers. That means working closely with them to train their staff on our value proposition, identify win/win promotional opportunities, and create great experiences for their consumers in the produce department."
He also pointed out that Backyard Farms have partnered with chefs in order to enhance their online presence. "Partnering with chefs was a terrific way to build our online catalog of recipes for digital marketing purposes," he said.
Ten year celebrations
This year, Backyard Farms have been celebrating ten years of operations. As part of the celebrations, the company engaged social media, as well as create a special ten-year package for their cocktail tomatoes.
"All year-long, we’ve had a great time celebrating our 10-year anniversary with our customers on social media," Darroch said. "We shared a special thank you video from our employees, created a commemorative package for our cocktail tomatoes and launched www.10yearsoftomatoes.com where customers can learn about our history and enter a weekly drawing for 10 free boxes of tomatoes."
Current and future developments
Backyard Farms became part of Mastronardi Produce this year. They are pleased to be able to continue production under their name, this time with an eye on future expansion opportunities.
"The biggest news of 2017 was our acquisition by Mastronardi Produce," Darroch said. "After ten years of competing against the Sunset brand, we’re honored to be a part of the Mastronardi Family and their commitment to flavor. With their support and creative resources, we’re excited to maintain the Backyard Farms brand here in the northeast and expand into new markets."
Darroch concluded by announcing that the company will launch a new design for their 10 oz cocktail tomato boxes next year. In conjunction with the box, they are planning to work with retailers on their displays. "As our 10-year anniversary winds down, we’re looking forward to introducing a new cocktail box design in 2018 that reinforces the fact that our tomatoes are grown in Maine," he said. "We will be supporting this new box with updated merchandiser displays at several retail partners throughout the year."
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