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Nico van Vliet of Monsanto on the 'mission impossible'

Netherlands: The quest for the perfect tomato

Almost like the alchemists of old, breeders are working on it day and night: the quest for an even more productive, more special, more powerful and more tasty tomato. But what determines the success of a good variety and what influence does the consumer have on the evolution of the vegetable? Is there still room on the shelf for specialties?

“In the last 20 years a lot has changed,” says Nico van Vliet, marketing manager at Monsanto. Monsanto, an American company that develops products for agriculture. “The consumer has become an increasingly important aspect of the process. It used to be all about the grower, and the desire to come up with a variety that provided large crops, high resistance and sturdy growth. That is still vital of course, but the consumer worked his way into the equation as well.”

To meet developing consumer demands, Monsanto set up a special unit: The Chain Team. The team’s goal is to get a better understanding of people’s needs and wishes in the entire chain. “The overall idea being that we want a tomato that caters to all the members in the production chain: from growers to retailers. The perfect variety has to meet all the specifics.”

The question, of course, is if there is really room on today’s market for yet another variety. “The varieties on display at the local retailer seems almost endless,” admits Nico. “14 different tomatoes do not help the retailer sell tomatoes. The more varieties on display, the more have to be discarded at the end of the day. That is something we have to take into account. We do see opportunities.”

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