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US retail favours innovative greenhouse tomatoes

The domestic tomato crop meets just 41% of demand in the US. A small proportion – 6% – is imported from Canada but the vast majority of fresh tomatoes for this market are supplied by Mexican growers who offer consistent winter supplies and low labour costs and account for 52% of the market,

The US fresh tomato market is a mature one which has seen a shift in product types and hunger for heated greenhouse crops.

After decades on the rise, US fresh tomato consumption seems to have stabilised in recent years. From an average annual per capita consumption of just under 7 kg in 1990, fresh tomato consumption rose to 9.5 kg in 2010 and has remained stable ever since, according to the USDA/ERS vegetables and pulses yearbook, 2015.

The US average annual per capita fresh tomato consumption is in line with European consumption, which also stands at 9.5 kg. However a remarkable difference is that European consumption has fallen from 12 kg since 2004, whereas in the US it has more or less remained stable since then.

Fresh tomatoes account for 25% of US tomato consumption. The remaining 75% is consumed in the form of tomato juice, sauces or canned tomatoes. While only accounting for a small portion of the tomato market – although with the current population of 322 million people expected to grow to 373.5 million by 2030 that is relative – it is specifically the fresh tomato market that is on the move. 

Only 41% self-sufficiency

The domestic tomato crop meets just 41% of demand in the US. A small proportion – 6% – is imported from Canada but the vast majority of fresh tomatoes for this market are supplied by Mexican growers who offer consistent winter supplies and low labour costs and account for 52% of the market, information from Syngenta shows.

In both domestic production and imports, demand is shifting towards tomatoes grown in heated greenhouses, Syngenta portfolio marketing manager EMEA Andrea Launeck, said during the ‘Tomatoes, trends towards 2020’ conference in Antwerp in April.

The open field green harvest appears to be under pressure and the open field ripe vine and local plastic greenhouse productions are losing power in the retail market. Heated greenhouses focus on the supermarkets and appeal to them with an offer that is innovative, has a stable production volume and is able to limit its labour requirements.

Launeck has observed a shift in the market from beef and cluster (UK truss) tomatoes towards snack tomatoes and flavour. Again, the greenhouses seem to be able to address those needs better than the open field growers.

The impressive growth in the covered production of tomatoes that Mexico has achieved is a good example of that. Since 2005 their surface area has almost tripled.

According to Syngenta, in 2005 the covered production area of tomatoes in Mexico was 3,300 ha; in 2015 it had grown to 12-15,000 ha. About 80% of the investment in covered tomato crops focuses on exports to the US, Launeck said. 

Half the volume comes from field crops

Although it is decreasing, open field production still accounts for the majority of the US tomato crop. About 50% of the tomato volume is destined for food services and is mainly open field, with beef tomatoes and a short growing cycle for green harvesting playing an important role. This mainly takes place in California and Florida, as well as in imports from Mexico.

The open field production of large sized tomatoes accounts for another 25% of the total volume, focuses on local production for local consumption and is sold to grocery stores. These are usually small operations all across the US.

The remaining 25% of tomatoes, including both US production and imports from Mexico and Canada, are grown in heated greenhouses with a focus on the retail trade, which offer innovative tomatoes addressing customer values, packed under own brands, and providing retailers with reliable year-round supplies.

»Presentation by Andrea Launeck of Syngenta

This article was originally published on page 46 of edition 145 (Sep-Oct 2016) of Eurofresh Distribution magazine. Read more fresh produce industry news from that issue online here:


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International tomato conference in April

The "Tomatoes, trends towards 2020" conference aims to create a forum for the exchange of recent scientific knowledge and sales and marketing experiences. Both research and marketing topics will be handled in parallel sessions.

With a lot happening in the tomato sector, such as product innovation, changing expectations from retailers and consumers, and challenging trends, it is time for the in-depth analysis offered by the international conference Tomatoes, trends towards 2020. Being held in Antwerp, Belgium, April 13-15, the conference offers an exciting programme and an interesting platform for stakeholders to meet.
It is also is a way for the LAVA auctions and the Flemish experimental centres to focus on the trends in production, scientific research, marketing and consumption within this product group. The 3-day event offers a varied programme with lectures and discussion forums, as well as taking an in-depth look at day-to-day practice.

Research and marketing under the spotlight
The conference will largely take the form of two parallel sessions, with various speakers going into more detail on scientific research on the one hand and product marketing and sales on the other. Speakers will expand on the topics of quality, sustainability and innovation. The research sessions will tackle the most topical issues such as crop protection, quality, packaging, storage, transport and nutrition. Innovative techniques such as illumination, new growing techniques and mechanisation, selective breeding and physiology will also be on the agenda.

Marketing and consumption
In parallel with the research session, a marketing session will operate, where commercially interested parties can participate in discussion forums and presentations to do with marketing.
On Wednesday 13 April, Philippe Binard (Freshfel) will speak about the production and consumption of tomatoes in the EU. Speakers from various producer regions in the EU will be giving a peek into the trends in tomato production: segmentation, differentiation, marketing and sales methods: Raf De Blaiser (LAVA, Belgium), Marie Deredec (Prince de Bretagne, France), Arne van Aalst (Prominent, Netherlands), Olle Olofsson (Svenska Odlarlaget, Scandinavia) and Jan van der Blom (Coexphal, Spain).
On Thursday 14 April, there will be parallel sessions about research and marketing. Speakers including Jan Schockaert (Colruyt Group) and Ward Verberck (Metro) will share their vision. Other national and international retailers will give their views on the segmentation and sales methods from the point of view of what the consumer wants when it comes to tomatoes.

Food service sector
The food-service sector will also be speaking about the use of tomatoes in the past and in the future. In the afternoon, representatives from Autogrill Europe, Elvea, Starmeal and Reynolds are expected. There will also be the opportunity to listen to a presentation on how sustainability and fair trade are influencing the production, marketing and sales of tomatoes. This will involve the organisations Vredeseilanden, Res Sense and Test Aankoop. At the end of the morning, trend-watcher Adjiedj Bakas will share his views.

Practice meets research
On the final day, Friday 15 April, there is a choice between two different tours with visits to auctions, producers and experimental centres, making for an excellent opportunity to tie in practice with research.

The detailed programme of the three-day event is available at

Source: LAVA (Administrative and Logistic Association of Auctions, the umbrella organisation to promote co-operation among the 5 most important fruit and vegetable auctions in Belgium.)