Italian tomato grower thinks Covid-19 outbreak may have brought some opportunities

The Covid-19 crisis has been a shocking event for people everywhere, for the public health systems, for the economy and for us all as consumers. The food supply-chain reacted responsibly, aware of its crucial role in people’s day-to-day life. However, such a disruptive event can bring opportunities for growers that have invested over the past ten years in the right technology, in selecting the right genetic material and consolidating relations with retailers. This is the opinion of Mattia Gandini, sales manager of Gandini Antonio s.a.s., a high tech greenhouse tomato producer in Guidizzolo near Mantua (part of OP Valleverde), Italy.

More than a decade ago, the Gandini family focused on greenhouse technology as a strategic tool to supply consistently, year-round, fresh tomatoes to Italian retailers. That choice helped them to gain a strong position in the arena of the North and Central Italy high quality tomato market. Today the Gandini group handles about 6 million punnets including cherry, mini plum and cocktail tomatoes and more than 6,000 tons of Heirloom and Marmande. All of this has also been possible thanks to patiently connecting together with other professional partner growers across the whole peninsula.

Cherry tomato grown and packed at Gandini Antonio s.a.s.

In fact, Gandini group is not only made up of a family and employees in Guidizzolo, but also of important partners like Isola Grande in Sicily and Orto Serre near Melfi (PZ), two companies focused on high quality and flavourful tomatoes using soil-less technology. These companies know well how to manage the strict hygiene and internal rules to help to keep their workers safe, limiting the risk of cross-contamination. These people have long experience on managing plant pathogens and so the appearance of Covid-19 did not take them by surprise.

Greenhouse of Isola Grande (Ragusa)

All of these ingredients blended together in the past few years have built a relationship with end consumers who have found in “Gandini” branded tomatoes an element of stability. In recent months, consumers have changed their consumption habits, modified their usual shopping list resulting in shaking retailers’ confidence. Some products on the shelves have plummeted in sales (e.g. salad mix) while orders at Gandini keep increasing. Mattia believes that “in some ways, for a well-structured company like ours, the Covid-19 crisis can be turned from a threat into an opportunity to consolidate position in the market and tighten up relations with retailers and consumers”.

Tomato crop at Orto Serre in Melfi (Potenza)

Another essential ingredient of this recipe is the genetic source; selecting the right variety is vital to fulfil consumers' expectations. Staying on top of the latest genetic developments is a lengthy work; fortunately, Gandini group discovered TomaTech, which they call "a reliable and creative partner, able to deliver innovative products, and combine in the same tomato, consistency in taste, unique nutritional value, good yield and adaptability to all growing areas (South, Center and North of Italy). The unique cherry tomato, Pom Sweet Candy, with its distinctive pointed ‘tail’ is one of those; it is the product that has seen a significant and consistent increase in consumer’s preference among the cluster tomatoes of the Gandini range. Pom Sweet Candy is loved by consumers first and foremost because of its consistent, delicious flavor and attractive red colour. By eating it regularly, they are benefiting from its excellent phytonutrient attributes in the form of vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, potassium and zinc, along with its rich antioxidant and anti inflammatory qualities which may contribute to keeping a strong and healthy immune system.

"Despite the corona virus epidemic, which found ours and other countries unprepared, we hope that Italy will recover soon and this experience has served to understand that we must believe more in people, increase their skills and improve our resilience."

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