There are many parameters a product must meet to survive on store shelves. And even if it scores high on all levels, success is not ensured. In short: there is a lot involved when it comes to introducing new products. Mainly time.
Petra en Paul Stoffels, the owners of Stoffels Tomatoes
An unusual, aromatic tomato
About three years ago, Belgian nursery, Stoffels Tomatoes, gradually started planting the Toma’Muse tomato variety. This variety is a little Bordeaux tomato with an unusual shape and an aromatic flavor. “We try to find varieties that can be successful all year round. We look for tomatoes that can improve on the current offer or can generate new ways of using tomatoes,” says Stoffels Tomatoes’ Petra Veldman.
This is what happened with the Toma’Muse. “We found it to be something unique - the tomato has an aromatic taste. Many new tomato varieties are sweet. However, we must not stare ourselves blind against this. Tomatoes are, after all, not just meant to be consumed as snacks. They must also be used in cooking. The Toma’Muse is extremely suited for use in the oven. Other tomato varieties tend to go mushy in the oven. But the Toma’Muse retains its form. In cold dishes, such as salads, this tomato’s aromatic taste really shines.”
A nice flavor, unusual shape, and distinct color. Even with these three traits, this new tomato is not yet complete. As important is its shelf life. “When we select varieties, we primarily test their flavor retention. How good do the tomatoes taste after some time has passed? After all, while still hanging on the plant, everything tastes good. We supply our clients directly. We are, therefore, placed very vertically in the sector,” continues Petra.
“We, however, also have to take into account that our tomatoes might only be eaten more than a week after being harvested. If your product can retain its flavor, you can win the consumer’s trust. We do so by, for example, growing the tomatoes under lights. This type of cultivation ensures year-round availability. Of course, it is and will remain, a natural product. Shapes, colors, and sizes differ. After all, we are not producing chewing gum balls.”
Toma'Muse in consumer packaging
According to Stoffels, these tomatoes could become very successful. They are packed in the Toma’Chef line’s mixed packages. This product line is offered to the hotel, restaurant, and catering sector. Toma’Muse has been delivering these tomatoes to the hospitality sector in this manner for almost two years now. “However, we are getting a lot of positive feedback about their uses. We have, therefore, started developing a consumer packaging,” adds Veldman.
Thanks to its color and shape, this tomato already stands out on store shelves. Despite this, its packaging deserves the necessary attention. Producers can communicate with their clients via packaging. “We export these tomatoes to 16 countries, so the slogans’ message must be loud and clear. It is essential that we make it clear to people what these tomatoes can be used for. These tomatoes do very well in the oven. Last year, we, therefore, added a marinade. I think we can get much more out of that in the future.”
Steady growth thanks to partnerships
The Toma’Muse is only produced by four growers worldwide - Mastronardi Produce in Canada, La-Palma in Spain, Perfection Fresh in Australia, and Stoffels in Belgium. Breeder, Toma’Tech, owns the tomato’s genetic material. The four producers own the label. Petra explains that these partnerships ensure the product can grow steadily.
“We all try to deliver the same quality every time. This is needed to gain consumers’ confidence. If any random farmer were to cultivate this tomato, you could not control its quality. That is essential when introducing new products. Too many tomatoes would also be produced. There is, then, a chance that the market might collapse before you have even built it up.”
Stoffels Tomaten has deliberately chosen to grow specialty tomatoes. Even though this is not the path of least resistance. “It is easier to cultivate a variety that has an 80kg/m2 yield than it is to grow our tomatoes. Some of which yield only 30kg/m2. Still; we like swimming against the stream. If you want a delicious product, you must be willing to contend with lower production. A tomato uses its energy for either production or flavor. We chose the latter,” says Petra.
Growing a more difficult crop comes with a price tag. This price is even higher in the supermarket. “It is not easy to promote something new within the retail sector. Regular tomatoes are usually sold at lower prices to retain customers. The margins are made on special tomatoes. This margin increases their prices. A product must, therefore, be really extraordinary to survive on store shelves.”
Toma'Muse close up
According to Petra, special tomatoes’ price tags do not deter people from choosing them. “We have noticed a desire for a good product, certainly in the health sector. Consumers want real quality and are prepared to pay more for it. You see this with little snack tomatoes. The prices for these have - to the consumer's advantage - fallen considerably. However, in the beginning, they cost significantly more than normal TOV. I think this offers plenty of opportunities for specialty tomatoes in the future,” Petra concludes.
For more information
Kleine Gammel 61
2310 Rijkevorsel - Belgium
T: +32 (0)3 664 83 23