Snack tomatoes seem to be everywhere these days and since consumers can't seem to be getting enough of them that's a positive thing. The choice is huge for the consumer, and just as well for the trading companies and the growers. In order to keep this market growing, breeding company Sakata focuses on the balance between production and taste. "Growers want high productions, under pressure of how the market develops and what the market demands of them. We respond to this as a breeding company, but at the same time we have to resist the temptation to take that side of high productions if it is combined with too high fruit weight and less taste. The focus must remain on taste in order to ensure repurchase", says Pieter Vermeulen with Sakata.
Keeping this in mind, the company now offers new varieties in red, yellow and brown. "There is always room in the market for a unique tomato of its kind and with a good flavour and good shelf life, we now have those varieties ready."
Pieter Vermeulen in action at Delphy with Paul van der Nat with Delphy. Photo credits: Pieter Prins
As a high-tech Indoor Crop Specialist at Sakata, Pieter Vermeulen is responsible for sales and development of new snack tomatoes in NW Europe. He sums up the latest acquisitions one by one and even comes to five, namely Lemonstar F1, Scarlet Star F1, Crimson Star F1 as 'brand new' varieties, Chocostar F1 that was introduced a year ago, and Bellastar F1 as the variety that is already more widely known in the market.
At Sakata, varieties get 'star' in the name if the taste level is above the threshold set by Sakata. "Of all the varieties, Bellastar F1 can best be described as a 'commodity'," Pieter explains. "It is a variety with a high production, a good fruit weight, short bunches and therefore lower costs for the grower to grow the variety. The taste is not the most pronounced, but on the other hand, it has a very good shelf life".
Distinguished with shelf life
Building on the strengths of Bellastar F1, Sakata was able to develop two new varieties, also red snack tomatoes. "Both Scarlet Star F1 and Crimson Star F1 have an even better, stronger, distinct flavour than Bellastar F1. In addition, Crimson Star F1 is a variety that comes into production very early and is also very suitable for lighted cultivation. The variety can certainly compete with the reference variety in the market, if grown correctly. Pruning is the crux, because it allows the grower to maintain a good fruit weight'.
Trading companies and ultimately the retail or any selling party might not care that much on whether there has been pruned - but the longer shelf life, which distinguishes Scarlet Star F1 in particular from the reference in the market, should appeal to the parties mentioned, Pieter expects.
"Surely it is very important that a tomato has a good shelf life and can also be presented well in the stores. Uniformity also comes into play, both in shape, fruit weight and taste. Everyone wants a good-looking, good-tasting tomato that doesn't disappoint all year round".
According to Pieter, the Scarlet Star variety should certainly appeal to trade and sales parties because of its good shelf life.
Photo credit: Pieter Prins
No fluctuation permitted
Besides the mentioned red newcomers Scarlet Star F1 and Crimson Star F1, Sakata also presents a new yellow snack tomato. The name Lemonstar F1 reveals the colour. "There is not much small yellow tomato varieties in the market", observes Pieter, "so I see opportunities with this new variety that has a nice uniform fruit weight, a high production and above all a good taste. With a brix of over 8.0 throughout the year Lemonstar provides an ideal yellow fruit in the mix pack."
Not everything revolves around brix. Brix is important, although it is also about a good balance between a 'sweet' and a 'sour'. The brown snack tomato Chocostar F1 also does very well in the mix packaging. "A large Belgian grower is very satisfied with taste, fruit weight and shelf life".
In order to be able to make statements about taste, Sakata has the varieties tasted by several test panels, both in the Netherlands at Wageningen University & Research and in Lille (ISA institute). "Varieties must score well on taste throughout the year and must not fluctuate, which would result in a loss of taste in spring and autumn, for example. You can't afford that if you're building a position on the shelf with a variety".
Above 12 grams is too much
In addition to his contacts with the sales side of the chain, Pieter is also in close contact with growers. "Growers want high productions, under pressure of how the market develops and what the market demands of them. We respond to this as a breeding company, but at the same time we have to resist the temptation to take that side of high productions in combination with too high fruit weight and less taste. The focus must remain on taste." To this end, Pieter also looks explicitly at trading companies. "They choose which varieties, which species they want to buy and sell."
Due to the emphasis in the market on high productions, candy tomatoes have gradually increased in fruit weight over the years from roughly 10 grams to sometimes as much as 14, 15 or even 16 grams. "It's remarkable that recent tests carried out by taste panels showed that these larger sizes were actually too big for them. Some even thought that 12 grams was too much, so we are strongly committed to developing varieties between 10 and 12 grams".
To entice the consumer to buy and eat a tomato, taste is important to make a repeat purchase, but it is first the eye that makes the consumer choose a tomato. Mixed packaging full of colours helps and looks cheerful. "The variety or colour of tomato with the least shelf life is the one that determines success in a mixed pack of tomatoes of various colours. We therefore pay close attention to a uniform shelf life and in our extensive range of candy tomatoes with all kinds of colours we focus on good taste and good shelf life".
What does help to put new varieties on the market, however, is that more and more growers are increasingly in control, Pieter sees. "And so the grower really chooses the tomato that makes it possible to grow the best possible product at low cost. If a new variety compared to the reference in the market is better in terms of picking performance and therefore better in terms of cost and taste, shape and shelf life, then the choice for the grower is made faster. Subsequently, the trade, which looks beyond just kilos, will also enter the market more easily with a new variety. In short, let the ball, or the seeds and later the candy tomatoes, roll. With these new varieties we are ready for it".