Top-shelf tomatoes

Ask the Experts - Tomatoes

Kevin Hurd, Proven Winners’ director of new products, says newly introduced tomato genetics help keep the crop atop the produce food chain.

November 17, 2020

Kevin Hurd
Photo courtesy of Proven Winners

What does the variety market look like for growers who are considering changing their tomato offerings?

We’ve got two we’ve introduced a few years ago — Garden Gem and Garden Treasure. Garden Gem was actually featured in Slate Magazine and labeled the tastiest tomato by a group of researchers. They are from Dr. Henry Klee at the University of Florida. Really, what Dr. Klee has done has gone back and really reworked tomatoes. It was part of his research and he went and characterized everything that makes a tomato taste good. What he found at the time was that none of the top grocery store options were tasty. He used that data and essentially married the great taste of an heirloom with modern disease resistance. These varieties also thrive in the heat. Katie Stagliano from Katie’s Krops in South Carolina goes on and on about this.

If you’re a grower looking at this market, what is the advantage of getting ahead on varieties and staying ahead of the trends?

We’re taking the same approach as we do with flowers and now doing it with vegetables. So, we’re looking for the most successful varieties with the consumers with the extra caveat that it needs to taste amazing. It’s got to blow people away and that’s what people are looking for. We were so lucky to link up with Dr. Klee because he had been trying to get these introduced to the market and had no luck despite consumers reaching out to him on Facebook and basically demanding them.

How does Proven Winners see the current tomato market and the opportunities it can offer those interested in it?

Tomatoes are the king of all of the vegetables. It’s a top seller and between tomatoes and peppers make up the majority of the home garden market. But now with COVID — that’s the big thing — we’re finding millions of new gardeners out there and we look at edible gardening as the gateway drug of gardening. That’s the first thing they are going to try — they are going to plant a tomato, plant a pepper, and having that category was important to me because it was something I saw my friends doing and what I saw millennials doing. They weren’t starting with a petunia; they were starting with vegetables. For growers, it is a premium variety, so there is only so much market capitalization available there. So it’s about deciding how much of a premium crop you want to plant and using our pull-through marketing and the marketing Dr. Klee has done to gain another advantage.