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Gem Tomato filling demand for Arkansas tomatoes

By
Keith Loria

Gem Tomato Sales Inc. began in 1982 with offices in Arkansas, Florida and Michigan, marketing and promoting fresh market vine-ripened summertime tomatoes. In 1999, Gary Margolis, president of the company, teamed with Triple M Farms owners Wendell Moffatt and James Meeks and both businesses skyrocketed.

With the Arkansas tomato harvest approaching, both companies are ready to capitalize on the growing demand for tomatoes.

“With more people staying at home, the retail demand for tomatoes has been very strong,” Margolis said. “More people are shopping and trying new recipes, and that has led to an increased interest in Arkansas vine-ripened tomatoes.”

The Arkansas varieties that come in June are considered to be some of the first vine-ripened tomatoes of the season. In addition to Romas and rounds, this year the company added grape tomatoes to the mix. The company tested them last year for the first time, and went forward with additional production after seeing the success.

“For generations, southeast Arkansas farm families have been dedicated to open field tomato production, and they continue to consistently deliver, despite the many hurdles that they face every season,” Margolis said. “Every season has its challenges, and this year is no different.”

In addition to the obvious concerns of weather, labor availability and rising production costs, the company is also facing transportation issues.

“This season, truck shortages and transportation rates have led to more uncertainty,” Margolis said. “We’re hearing that people just can’t find trucks. We’re hoping some of that pressure comes off as we head to the summer.”

With a customer base concentrated mostly in the Midwest, Gem Tomato can make deliveries — often overnight — to most of its customers.

“Those shorter distances keep produce fresher and make it a little easier to deliver,” Margolis said. “We’re not looking across the United States as we did years ago, but we’re focusing on those customers who are willing to wait for them and pay a fair price.”

The weather in Arkansas has been unseasonably cool this year, and that might impact the June start. Margolis noted there’s a chance it could be June 10 or June 15 before things get started.

“The crop, however, looks good at this point, and we look forward to physically being there the first week of June and hoping for that June 10 start,” Margolis said. “Everything you read now is about an increase in greenhouse production around the country, but that has made Arkansas almost a specialty deal.”

That’s why the company is touting the fact that its tomatoes are grown by experienced growers and is focusing on a customer base that wants these great-tasting Arkansas tomatoes.

Last June, Gem Tomato was extremely concerned about what would happen because of the uncertainty of the pandemic. “My growers at Triple M Farms were committed to the crop and did not look back,” Margolis said. “There were some who were sitting on the fence and waiting to see what happened, but we saw extremely good demand and were much relieved at the outcome. I think a lot of young people saw the joy of cooking at home and that added to the demand.”

Having been in this business for a long time, Margolis appreciates the Arkansas season. “It’s short, it’s fast and it’s got a lot of support from customers who have been loyal for multiple generations,” he said. “Many of our customers today are companies that were served by my uncle 50 years ago. That makes it special.”

Photo: Virginia Moffatt, Wendell Moffatt, James Meeks Jr., James Meeks Sr. and Nick Meeks.

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