Wasserbombe [water bomb]. That’s how the German media called the Dutch tomato 20 years ago. Tomato grower Ton Janssen took revenge by introducing the Tasty Tom. The Germans love it.Ton Janssen promoting the Dutch tomatoes at the Floriade in 2012.
Grower Ton Janssen from Venlo remembers it well. In the early nineties the Netherlands and Germany clashed over the quality of the tomato. "The German media were constantly being negative about the Dutch tomato," says Janssen. This reached a low point in 1995. German TV held a live television debate about the differences between the Dutch and German tomato. Janssen was asked to participate in the discussion, along with a German television cook.
Never sell in Germany again
"I will never forget it. The discussion was heated. Before recording began, the cook literally told me: "Herr Janssen, I will ensure that your computer controlled, watery tomatoes are never sold in Germany again. What you Dutch put on the market is a shame." The word Wasserbombe frequently fell during that broadcast. "That affected me. My outlook on growing tomatoes changed." Taste, not production, would now be key. "I did not want to be associated with water bombs, however wrong that image was. As I also said in that particular broadcast: in those years the Netherlands was growing the same tomato varieties as Germany. But a German product had, and has, an advantage in Germany. Germans prefer a German product, period."
In the period after the broadcast Janssen buys 20 different varieties from several seed breeding companies, to eventually choose the best. It is the Campari tomato. "This variety has a beautiful, deep red color. The taste is great, very sweet." There are also downsides. "Cultivation is laborious and production low." Janssen therefore approaches 'inventor' Enza Zaden for a license.
"If everyone would grow a variety while already producing a third less than producers of other varieties, your cost price wouldn’t make it." Enza at first reacts surprised, but then agrees. Janssen takes the plunge with two other growers and has since then focused only on the cultivation of the Campari tomato. The brand Tasty Tom is born: a tomato that revolves around taste. Janssen's mission to adjust the image of the Dutch tomato starts. No more water bombs from the Netherlands.Approaching German greengrocers
The first thing growers do is hang a label on each tomato truss. "To make our name recognizable up to the kitchen table." Janssen also focuses on organic pest control. All insects in the greenhouse are fought with natural enemies. "We were given much free publicity. That's nice, but the important thing is to reach German consumers, telling them how tasty Tasty Tom is.” The three growers did not have a budget for ads on TV or in newspapers. “So we had to tell our customers - the wholesalers - the story of Tasty Tom, so that they could pass it on to the greengrocers".
Janssen visited all 20 wholesale markets in Germany. "The wholesale markets are open between 1 and 8 am They are meant for traders, vegetable specialists - not consumers. Here I worked the vegetable traders. I took with me ten boxes of Tasty Toms, Tasty Tom bags, knives, cocktail sticks, cutting boards." The promotional team also drives up to German vegetable specialty stores with an eye-catching Smart car, to hand out tomatoes to customers all day.
Free publicity is nice, quality more important
It is paying off. The Tasty Toms are in great demand across the border. More than 60% of the taste tomatoes go to Germany now. "It really is the product. You can do whatever you like with PR, but if the product is not good, it will never amount to anything." In Germany, the taste tomatoes are in some major supermarkets and specialty vegetable stores. What also helps: Janssen speaks German. "I grew up in Limburg with German television. You have a much stronger position if you can have conversations in German."Generations needed to adjust image
Has the negative image of the Dutch tomato gone with the eastern neighbors? "For the most part. We are popular in Germany. People even take the trouble to email us to say that they like our tomatoes. That motivates us enormously. On the other hand ... look at what's happening with Volkswagen. In 20 years everyone will still remember what happened. If you ask 100 consumers in Germany now: What do you think of the Dutch tomato? Some will still say: "ah, Wasserbombe". It takes generations for that image to completely disappear."
High production, low cost disadvantage
There is also much to be gained with Dutch tomato growers. "Many still choose for high production and low production costs. Too bad, because there are plenty of varieties with enough flavor." Yet Janssen does not complain. Not only Germans love his taste tomatoes. Part of his production goes to Scandinavia, Belgium and Japan ("Real sweet tooths"). So Janssen won’t be sitting still anytime soon.
Source: ABN Amro