How tomatoes taste is becoming increasingly important. Supermarkets are considering their tomato assortments very deliberately. The range is very extensive, so the focus is no longer on expansion. Now it is on deepening the tomato assortment and encouraging repeat purchases. On the one hand, the emphasis is on the basic products, where the price is essential. On the other, it is on the flavour experience. And consumers are finding that increasingly important. Colour is something that contributes to the perception of quality and taste.
“Tomatoes are distinguished by flavour. That is a crucial characteristic that is in high demand,” says William van der Riet about Axia's Flavorax tomato line. William is a business initiator at Axia Vegetable Seeds. This company focuses on breeding tomatoes, among other things. Flavour is an increasingly important aspect. "I think people are more critical of the flavour aspects of tomatoes.” That’s why Axia has developed a whole line of tomatoes, from 35 to 180g.
This broad assortment is completed by a collection of eight kinds of tomatoes under the name Flavorax. All these varieties have the same characteristics. For instance, the tomatoes have a deep red fruit colour with dark red flesh. The inside is a typical green gel, and the tomatoes have a flat round shape. "The gel’s green hue and the deep red colour of the flesh create a distinctive taste experience." William explains that smaller tomatoes are generally a little sweeter than larger ones. “But even the medium-sized Flavorax tomato bunches have a significantly higher Brix level than traditional varieties." Currently, commercial possibilities are being explored. A market introduction will follow. The aim is to bring 10 to 15 hectares of Flavorax tomatoes into production in the next season.
William says Dutch and Belgian supermarkets are particularly interested in these tomatoes, as are exporting trading companies. The focus is on the premium range. "Retailers have said there’s a need for flavour there. This is especially true in the top and bottom of both the cherry and the medium-sized tomatoes segments.” The Flavorax tomatoes are not considered an expansion of the range but a deepening of it. “Supermarkets have about an average of 18 SKU (stock-keeping units) in the tomato shelf.”
“The larger retailers are more likely to reduce, rather than increase, the number of SKUs. They are looking to improve their assortment. And Flavorax is a perfect match for them. Expanding with totally new products, shapes or colours is not our primary objective. This is not an expansion but a deepening of the premium segment. Flavour is the leading factor in the varieties we breed. We’re trying to replace slightly unusual tomatoes with ones with added value.”
Several aspects contribute to a tomato’s flavour experience. One is the skin thickness. This benefits the product’s shelf life, but it can be somewhat detrimental to its taste. "The Flavorax tomatoes are a little more delicate, with thinner fruit skins. That makes them easier to eat. Often, breeding is done based on production. That is absolutely necessary. Growers' returns are always under pressure. Precise calculations are made to see whether a tomato is attractive to grow. But ultimately, the flavour profile is something of which we mustn’t lose sight. And if you can use the right breeding lines, you must. These must create not only a high-quality product. It must have a great flavour experience. But production must not be compromised too much,” William concludes.
Full Red by De Ruiter
“We see that the consumer is gaining more and more choice in what they buy and obviously retailers and growers are looking at that. We are looking at the whole value chain spectrum for the decision-making process. This is one of the reasons why we decided to make it really clear that when we say Fullred, that for the consumer it is obvious that this is a red tomato inside and out and the flavour is good, so that they want to buy it,” says Svetlana Tokunova, Customer Marketing Manager Benelux with Bayer Vegetable Seeds, De Ruiter, about Fullred, a line of tomato varieties that offers the consumer a recognisable concept of colour, flavour and taste experience. Ben van den Bosch, responsible for Global Glasshouse Breeding at Bayer Vegetable Seeds, De Ruiter explains that the focus on the intense colouring – both internally and externally – is added because flavour is an aspect that is hard to recognise for the consumer. “It’s a combination of colour and flavour. Whenever you see the colour you already know that it represents good flavour. We have crossed flavour into the tomato, but you cannot sell flavour.”
Brenda van Diejen, Account Manager Benelux Glasshouse tomato and cucumber with Bayer Vegetable Seeds, De Ruiter, observes that it is important for the consumer to have a good experience in order to create repeat purchases. “If, for instance, I don’t like a mandarin, I will try another one before getting rid of the whole net if I don’t like them. If I buy another net a week later I will toss the net after the first one that did not meet my expectations and the third week, I will not be buying mandarins anymore because I have had a negative experience. It’s the same with tomatoes; the consumer needs to have a positive experience.” That is even more important because the consumer can choose from so many types of tomatoes in the supermarket that is easy to get lost in all that choice. ”There is a very big selection in the supermarket, and you want the consumer to recognise what he needs to buy.” Ultimately this good experience leads to repeat purchases, not only from the consumer but from the retailer and the grower as well. Especially important during the International Year of Fruit and Vegetables, Svetlana notes.
The Fullred range comprises of multiple varieties. “We tried to deploy the Fullred characteristics in different segments,” explains Ben. “Not only in the smaller segment but also in the bigger sizes.” It started with varieties Licorosso and Flavance and has now grown into a wide assortment of varieties including beef tomatoes (Inpired), large truss (Marinice) and medium truss (Damaress). To help uniform the range, an icon for all different varieties in the line will be introduced shortly, Svetlana mentions. It will communicate the three pillars of the range to the consumer: colour, flavour, and taste experience.
Internal Red by Rijk Zwaan
It is not only for the consumer that De Ruiter strives for recognisability. That is an important part for the grower as well, explains Svetlana. “Full Red is also recognisable for the grower. If they are growing a variety like this, the grower knows it will be a success at the retailer level.“ A lot of interaction with the grower and trials are needed since there are so many factors that need to click in place, Brenda notes. For instance, the size of the glasshouse and the operating systems may vary and require different varieties. “We always try to have a nice red and flavourful tomato out of our breeding line.”
Although colour, flavour and taste are the focal points of the tomato breeding process, yield also needs to be addressed. “We need to find a balance. It is easy to breed for varieties that are remarkably high yielding but have no flavour. But again, having a product that offers the consumer a good experience, has extra value for the retailer because the frequency of repeat purchases will increase. In the end, the retailer benefits and it would be nice if the grower could benefit as well. Some tomatoes do have extra value, but for the bigger commodities, it is difficult. But my mission is, also for commodities, to have the best possible flavour combined with the best possible yield. So that there is a benefit, not only for the grower but also for the retailer and first and foremost, for the consumer,” says Ben.