Marketers see opportunities with heirloom tomatoes from Guatemala

As the tomato category continues to proliferate, members of the Guatemala Produce Trade Association are marketing heirloom tomatoes to help retail and foodservice buyers increase the flavor and excitement of their tomato offerings year-round.gwa

"We were introduced to a greenhouse grower interested in producing an heirloom tomato, on a year-round basis, that offered quality beyond what was available in the marketplace," said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development at Southern Specialties, which has been involved in heirloom tomatoes from Guatemala for around five years. "We challenged him with that task and today are proud to market Southern Selects heirloom tomatoes, Southern Selects baby heirloom tomatoes and Southern Selects yellow beefsteak tomatoes in a single-layer pack. It started as a boutique program that has experienced year-over-year growth since inception among both retail and foodservice."

"We tested over 40 varieties in a dedicated greenhouse to come up with the baby heirlooms that had the best flavor and shelf life to use in our mix," said Katiana Valdes, marketing director at Crystal Valley Foods in Miami, which has worked closely with a growing partner in Guatemala for more than three years. "The climate in the region allows for high-quality, flavorful tomatoes to be grown year-round in Guatemala."

Guatemala's heirloom program offers a variety of pack options with true heirloom tomatoes. "Southern showcases a variety of multiple-colored true baby heirlooms in various size clamshells that add excellent flavor and excitement to the plate," said Eagle. "Our heirloom tomato pack is a single layer of premium larger heirloom tomatoes featuring approximately four varieties in each pack. Our yellow beefsteak tomatoes have gorgeous yellow color and a mild low-acid flavor."

Crystal Valley currently offers its baby heirloom tomatoes in a one-pint clamshell. "Within the next couple of months we will also have Crystal Valley-branded premium heirloom tomatoes from Guatemala available in a 10-pound single-layer case," said Valdes.

Heirloom tomatoes from Guatemala are available on a year-round basis. Growers and their U.S. importers assure the highest quality standards for the product.

"Our grower partner is one of the food safety pioneers in Guatemalan agriculture," Valdes added. "In addition to maintaining rigid quality and food safety programs, they also regularly visit operations in the U.S., Canada and Europe to keep abreast of advances in greenhouse agriculture techniques that impact tomato quality and flavor."

With consumers responding passionately to the tomato category, Eagle said such "specialty" heirloom products are no longer just boutique items.

"When we first started, our customer base was solely high-end restaurants through foodservice distributors," he said. "That is no longer the case. Today's consumer seeks out heirloom tomatoes and thus we have a broad customer base including all types of retail chains and foodservice purveyors.

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