Gem could be getting early start on tomatoes
Gary Margolis, president of Gem Tomato Sales Inc., has long led the movement of direct marketing for Arkansas’ popular vine-ripened tomato varieties — be it rounds or Romas — and has a longstanding relationship with Triple M Farms in Hamburg, AR.
The owners of the farm, Wendell Moffatt and James Meeks, reported in early May that the crop conditions for tomatoes are looking excellent so far, and if that these conditions continue, Gem Tomato should be able to get off to a slightly earlier start than usual in June.
“Time will tell, but things are looking very good right now,” Margolis said. “Our acreage and production have remained relatively unchanged for several years now. We adjust acreage to service long-term customers and still enable us to take on new business and grow our customer base.”
Not surprisingly, the biggest news this season has been the rising production costs.
“Increases that we have never experienced to this degree,” Margolis said. “All inputs from fertilizer, labor, transportation and packaging are up substantially, and although consumers and buyers are well aware of increases across the board, we hope that we can command reasonable prices to compensate for these increases.”
After all, the company’s growers are dedicated to producing the highest-quality tomatoes possible and invest whatever is necessary to get the job done.
“In addition, we have had a continuous on-farm presence throughout the June/July harvest season,” Margolis said. “We coordinate order setup, quality control, and shipping, which helps guarantee consistent timely deliveries. This has led to strong long-term customer relationships over many years.”
It was Margolis who helped pave the way for an increased tomato production in Arkansas, transforming the old way of doing things.
“I met Wendell and James 30 years ago and they were selling tomatoes in an open-box system at auction tables in various locations throughout southeast Arkansas,” he said. “As I got to know them, I explained why it was failing and a flawed way of selling them. The highest bidder wasn’t always the best customer. We needed to control the product.”
Therefore, in 1999, the duo broke away from the auction set, teamed with Margolis on a facility and saw their acreage continue to expand as demand for tomatoes increased annually.
“We could offer promotions knowing we would have volume and there were no more unknowns of the auction system,” Margolis said. “The product line diversified and we cultivated close ties with our customers. Most are regulars and all have committed to supporting the Arkansas tomato deal.”
Of course, Arkansas has long been known as a vital shipping point for early summertime vine ripe tomatoes and Margolis credits growing there to be a key to success.
“Unique soil and climate conditions have enabled generations of family farms in southeast Arkansas to produce high quality, flavorful tomatoes early in the season when demand is high,” he said. “Arkansas has been the starting point of our summer program for more than 40 years and we have enjoyed long term relationships with growers and customers since the beginning.”
Plus Gem Tomatoes’ geographic location enables it to deliver quickly to most Northern and Midwest regions so that naturally ripened tomatoes are delivered fresh, without long transportation delays.
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic retail sales remained strong for tomatoes as more people shopped and ate meals at home, so Margolis feels that while the future is always unpredictable, he hopes that this trend continues and growers continue to survive in an industry facing a considerable amount of adversity.