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"US: "Everything falls into place with Heavenly Villagio Marzano"

Occasionally a tomato variety appears which combines the very best traits: a distinctive shape, a delicious taste and the capacity to be grown all year round with a consistent quality and flavour. The US company Village Farms International discovered all of these aspects in 72-154 RZ. "It's not often that everything falls into place."

Village Farms International is the premier grower-marketer and leading supplier of premium salad vegetables in North America. Having first conducted extensive market research, the company recently introduced a completely new branding strategy for its range of tomatoes. "Brands are becoming ever more important," says Director of Variety Development & Innovation, Debi Street. "The key to building consumer confidence in your product is to continually offer the same quality, weight and flavour under the same brand and in the same packaging. That’s why we work with only the best growers, ad here to strict quality and hygiene standards and select the very best varieties!"

To ensure the latter, Street visits the Rijk Zwaan Trial Center Tomato in the Dutch town of Kwintsheul twice a year. She is accompanied by Vice President of Production Tim Robinson, because variety selection is a collaborative process between growing and marketing. One thing they both definitely agree on is that flavour is the most important factor. "It's easy to sell any product just once, but will we succeed in selling it twice, three times or more?" Robinson always asks himself. In the case of 72-154 RZ, Street and Robinson had no doubts that they would. They first tasted the variety two years ago in the demo greenhouse, which was then located in Steenbergen. "It's combination of shape and taste was unique at the time," recalls Street. "Furthermore, the product exuded a sense of authenticity which offered excellent branding opportunities."

Snack pack
Once back in the US, Village Farms set to work with the new product. While conducting its own growing trials, the company embarked on an extensive programme of market research. It created a taste profile and asked consumer panels and food service companies for their feedback. Whereas chefs rated the tomato’s suitability for use in professional kitchens very highly, consumers particularly valued its appeal to children. As a result, the company also developed a smaller, snack-pack version of its packaging. "My discussions with purchasers underlined how well the packaging encouraged snacking," explains Debi. "Whenever I take a pack with me, it is always empty by the time the meeting is finished."

Year-round supply
By then, Robinson had also become convinced of the variety's attractive cultivation characteristics. "Growing in two locations – Canada and Texas – allows us to supply products with consistent quality and flavour all year round. Another positive aspect is the long shelf life, which is important in view of the considerable transportation distances involved over here." The variety was launched, under the 'Heavenly Villagio Marzano' brand name, at the PMA in October 2011. The concept was an almost instant hit, and the product has since been listed by all major food retailers in the US and Canada. "We will be significantly increasing production levels next year, because we’re currently struggling to meet demand,” states Robinson. "That's not really surprising," adds Street. "We've yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like this tomato!"

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