Twenty years ago, on the 30th July 1993, 49 boxes of vine tomatoes were sold at the auction, worth 245 kg. These tomatoes were supplied the day before by grower Jan Smets from Sint-Katelijne-Waver. This was the first time that the Belgian consumer was confronted with this novelty. There was widespread wonder and some people believed this was a passing whim which would soon fade. But the growth was spectacular and the vine tomato was soon a permanent fixture. 500,000 kg was sold on the auction clock in the first year. After twenty years the supply of vine tomatoes at BelOrta Auction grew to over 60 million kg.
Leftover Italian product becomes Belgian top product
The vine tomato had been around for a long time in Italy, but over there it was a lesser quality product. At the end of the cultivation of loose tomatoes the Italian growers left the tomatoes on the plant, and then picked them all together on the vine to empty the greenhouse. Later these vine tomatoes ended up on the German market, where consumers seemed to like them. At that time slightly more was paid for a slightly lower quality vine tomato than a standard loose tomato. This inspired a few Dutch growers to grow the vine tomato as a permanent cultivation. Dominique Devisch, independent crop advisor, was confronted with this new fact and informed grower Jan Smets. It all went very quickly after that.Left: “First vine tomato” : Grower Jan Smets supplies the first vine tomatoes in 1993. Right: “10 years of vine tomatoes" : The pioneers, Sonja and Jan Smets, blow out ten candles with crop advisor Devisch.
Jan Smets introduces the Belgian vine tomato in a month
"I immediately listened to my crop advisor's advice," says Jan Smets of Sint-Katelijne-Waver. As then-president of the Board of Directors of the auction, he was acutely aware of the market. "The European tomato sector was in a deep dip at the beginning of the 90's. There was overproduction, little diversity and the quality of import products was sometimes lacking. I know something had to be done to turn the tide and I could see a future in this innovation."
At the start of July 1993, Jan Smets was informed of the possibilities of the Recento variety which he produced. Two weeks later he took the initiative to leave the tomato on the vine and at the end of July he supplied the first Belgian vine tomato to the auction in Sint-Katelijne-Waver. "For a few weeks I tested the vine tomato on 10% of my area," says Smets. "But the cultivation and the reactions from the trade were so positive that by mid August 1993 I had switched my whole 1.3 ha greenhouse to vine tomatoes. A week later my daughter Sonja followed my example with a 1 ha greenhouse. You know the rest."Flandria and the Belgian horticulture
The success of the vine tomato showed many that the Belgian horticulture could only survive in the long term with top quality and diversity. This is why the brand Flandria was founded in 1995, and it was no coincidence that the first product was the tomato. These quality tomatoes were divided into 2 groups: loose tomatoes and vine tomatoes. These groups were subdivided into different types of tomatoes, each with their own specific characteristics in the areas of presentation, taste and use. The loose tomatoes are now Flandria Baron and Flandria Prince. The vine tomatoes contain Flandria Princess and Flandria Elite. The plum tomato is Flandria Runella. Throughout the years various tomato specialities have been added to the Flandria brand, such as Cherrystar, Coeur de Boeuf, San Marzano and various types of candy tomatoes.
Meanwhile the Flandria label has grown to cover over 60 vegetables. Vegetables that carry this label, are of top quality and guaranteed to have been grown in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way. The Flandria brand, which is carried by all Belgian auctions, has grown to become the top European reference for quality vegetables.