Shoppers Can Taste the Garden With Tomatoes

The varieties offered today by tomato producers not only include garden-familiar round, plum (Roma), and beefsteak types, but also span on-the-vine, colorful heirlooms, organics, plus cherry and grape varieties.

Opportunities exist for produce departments to optimize tomato sales.

Originally printed in the April 2024 issue of Produce Business.

The incredible diversity draws consumers to tomatoes. Superior nutrition, widespread availability, ease of preparation, and quick gratification make this fruit an easy choice for mealtime or snacking.

The varieties offered today not only include garden-familiar round, plum (Roma), and beefsteak types, but also span on-the-vine, colorful heirlooms, organics, plus cherry and grape varieties. Some of the newer offerings are marketed as specialties, especially the small-fruited types.


While Florida and California account for over three-fourths of field-grown tomatoes, greenhouse and other protected-culture technologies have extended the growing season for other climates. Greater market access has resulted, especially for the off-season and northern markets. Yield potential has been heightened as well.

Aided by suppliers’ expertise and zeal, the markets can be stocked year-round with a widening range of tomato types. Even vine-ripe varieties appear in record time.

The Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) December 2023 Vegetable and Pulses Outlook projected fresh market tomato U.S. production as 2,156 million pounds in 2022. It reports fresh market tomato imports as 4,370 million pounds, with greenhouse-grown imports accounting for 69%. It notes that fresh tomato imports have risen 172% since 2000.

Interestingly, domestic shipments for round tomatoes were 7% higher from the previous year, while cherry/grape shipments were up 7.5%. Also, the price difference is illustrated by the field-grown, mature-green round tomatoes averaging 50 cents per pound, a 57% decrease at the FOB shipping point. In contrast, grape tomatoes decreased 8%, but that price still reached $2.10 per pound.

The market for fresh tomatoes has been stable, however, 2023 per capita consumption is projected to rise from 19.04 pounds in 2022, according to the Outlook.

A review of 2024 food trends reveals an evolution of production and sales strategies. Coupled with dependable supplies and innovative technologies, the industry is positioned toward higher consumption.

NielsenIQ, Chicago, IL, in its 5 Trends Impacting Fresh Foods, says health and wellness matter to consumers. Paired with the renewed focus on health from COVID, health concerns revitalized the market for food as a source of wellness.

Organic tomatoes offer an option for consumers. According to the Organic Produce Network’s State of Organic Produce 2022, sales topped $9.4 billion — an increase of 3%, but volume declined 3.7%.

Organic tomato sales, at $315 million, was a 2.9% increase over 2021, while the volume of 74 million pounds reflected a 3.7% loss. The second quarter of 2023 showed 1.7% tomatoes lost in sales, and 6.6% in volume. The third quarter of 2023 for tomatoes indicated a sales gain of 4.3%, but a 2.4% loss in volume.


Joseph Procacci, owner of Procacci Brothers, Philadelphia, PA, founded Santa Sweets, known as the “Authentic Grape Tomato” 20 years ago because he wanted to give his customers tomatoes that “didn’t taste like cardboard.” Today, Santa Sweets, Plant City, FL, supplies that exclusive grape tomato, plus cherry, Roma, round and mixed heirloom tomatoes. The tomatoes are left on the vine until fully ripe, and their high tunnels and shade houses play a significant role in boosting quality.

USDA Certified Organic Wholesum Family Farms, Amado, AZ, grows beefsteaks, on-the-vines, Romas, heirlooms, plus an assortment of grape and cherry tomatoes destined for snackers.

“Consumers are increasingly prioritizing flavor as a key factor in their food choices, making high-flavor, snacking and premium tomatoes growing segments in the tomato world,” says Wholesum Marketing Manager Joanna Jaramillo.

“The growing trend of high-flavor snacking within the tomato category reflects a broader shift in consumer preferences toward obtaining maximum value from their purchases. In this context, value is not merely measured by quantity, but is rooted in the eating experience.”

Convenience is important as well, Jaramillo adds. “The rise of high-flavor snacking aligns with the modern, fast-paced lifestyles where consumers seek convenient and portable options.”

Wholesum’s packages of red, and red/orange/yellow tomatoes named Poppies, Darlings, Brites and Kaleidos spell youth and convenience.

“Younger consumers tend to gravitate toward more snackable, convenient options that they can take on the go. And this is ever more prominent among younger families with children,” she says. “Older demographics often prefer more traditional uses of tomatoes in cooking or as an ingredient in sauces and stews.”

DelFrescoPure, Kingsville, ON, ripens its “Little Bites of Luxury” on the vine and packs the bright red, tiny tomatoes at their peak.

“The Original Cherry Tomatoes on the Vine are vibrant, not only in their appearance, but provide such a unique profile to any recipe,” says Vice President of Sales Ray Mastronardi.

In early 2024, these on-the-go snacking or recipe-ready tomatoes will hit grocery shelves in 12-ounce clamshells, Mastronardi adds. “We’d love to see them displayed with items that can enhance their appeal and inspire consumers on how to add them to the next recipe. An example of this could be pairing them with feta cheese and fresh basil to make a whipped feta and roasted cherry tomato dip.”

Jenny Halpin, senior corporate external communications manager, NatureSweet, San Antonio, TX, reports, “Consumers crave convenience, and that’s where we’re focusing our efforts.”

“Over the last year or so, we have debuted several products that give consumers more choices for healthy, convenient snacking. Our Cherubs To Go are a handful of washed and ready-to-eat cherubs tomatoes in a container that fits in the palm of your hand.”

Halpin adds the innovative packaging keeps the snacking tomatoes fresh. “You can just grab them and go. Time is precious and we’re giving consumers what they’re craving.”

Lipman Family Farms, Immokalee, FL, with its strategically located farms supported by their packing and distribution network, can always offer in-season tomatoes. Its geographic diversity optimizes growing conditions.

The proprietary variety, Crimson, sets the standard for slicing for flavor, color and firmness. Among their array of beefsteaks, greenhouse-grown medleys and heirlooms, two bright red varieties received The International Taste Institute’s 2023 Superior Taste Award: the cocktail-type Monet Red, and the on-the-vine Bellavina.

Lipman recently opened its seventh fresh-cut facility. Ten Acre Marketing Account Manager Stephanie Soto, on behalf of Lipman, reports that Lipman’s sliced tomatoes are offered with the precision and consistency relied on in supermarkets delis and restaurants.

“With product-specific processing, stringent quality systems, and operational design for food safety, Lipman ensures consistency, cost savings, and simplifies daily operations,” Soto says. “Packed in convenient trays for retail deli and back-of-house, all you have to do is peel the top and they are ready to serve.”


With today’s prolific varieties, and especially because most can be offered year-round, retailers stock numerous types.

Consequently, opportunities exist for produce departments to optimize sales. Consumer education for various uses, often assisted by producers, can be a key. Also, through social media and their websites, many provide recipes.

“Creating interesting content with our commodities in forms of short recipe videos and working with our retailers on advertisements is imperative in increasing brand awareness,” Mastronardi says.

“Collaborating with retailers to educate on commodities and their availability is key to creating a more engaging shopping environment for customers and encouraging brand loyalty.”

Paul Maglio, vice president of operations at Maglio Produce, Milwaukee, WI, suggests sampling. “Pair the tomatoes with mozzarella cheese, olive oil, fresh basil,” he advises. To highlight preparation, he recommends displaying tomatoes close to the salad stand; and for Romas, complement with onions.

Vice President Rick Feighery, Procacci Brothers, Philadelphia, PA, advises retailers to follow the basics to sell more: “quality, flavor and price points.”

He adds that sales can be placement-driven, and freshness is highly important. Procacci still sells Ugly Ripe, along with their array of Roma, cherry, grape, on-the-vine and Santa Sweets.

As far as income level goes, price sensitivity can be a factor in tomato purchases, Jaramillo of Wholesum points out. “Higher-income shoppers are inclined to purchase more specialty organic varieties, whereas lower-income households may seek more affordable tomato options and value packs.”


“Customers look for quality,” stresses Joe Harkner, produce manager of Festival Foods, Oshkosh, WI. “As long as quality is good, price is not as much of an issue as quality.”

Harkner says beefsteaks and Romas are the largest sellers, but grapes sell well, too, at Festival Foods, which operates 41 stores. He advises displaying tomatoes with the other dry produce items, and emphasizes, “Make them look nice.”

“Customers look for quality. As long as quality is good, price is not as much of an issue as quality.”

— Joe Harkner, Festival Foods, Oshkosh, WI

Food City, Abingdon, VA, owned by K-VA-T, has 130 stores across five states. Produce Manager Jake Durham of the Chattanooga, TN, East Brainerd Road store, reports on the sellers: “It’s a tie between the on-the-vine and the regular hothouse ripe tomato.”

Durham says people pull tomatoes off the on-the-vine tomatoes to customize their own package, but then he just combines them and places them on the reduced rack. He also notes customers like the multiple colors of the grape tomato assortments, and green tomatoes for fried green tomatoes.

Flemming Hudson, manager of Food Town on Lake Avenue, in Yonkers, NY, reports his store has a Latino flavor, and plum tomatoes are the largest seller. “They buy them for cooking, and cut them into pieces for salsa,” he explains. “Snacking ones sell well, too. Our customers look for price, but we have sales frequently.”

That store, one of 67 Food Town stores in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, had eight varieties in a recent circular.

Gelson’s Markets, Encino, CA, with 28 southern California stores, lists over 20 tomato varieties on its weekly site. Several local producers are advertised along with the other brands. Alex Ponce, producer manager of the Long Beach store, reports the fastest sellers are the cherry tomatoes such as Angel Sweet and the large beefsteaks.

“Providing a diverse variety of tomato types is a key strategy to increase consumption,” stresses Wholesum’s Jaramillo. “This caters to distinct culinary preferences. Pairing specific tomato types with other seasonal ingredients in cross-merchandising displays can inspire creativity, while building the consumer’s basket.”