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Florida Joint Tomato Conference Report

Promotions Increase Tomato Sales, Marketing Order Regulations Renewed

The Tomato Magazine
October 2004

By Sandy Lindblad Lee

NAPLES, Fla.-Field-grown tomatoes captured a greater portion of tomato sales at retail during the past year, according to Samantha Winters, director of promotion and education for the Florida Tomato Committee, who gave her report at the FTC annual meeting Sept. 9. The meeting was one of the events of the 29th Annual Florida Joint Tomato Conference, held at the Ritz Carlton hotel Sept. 6-11.

This reported increase in tomato sales was welcome news during a gathering which was overshadowed by feelings of general anxiety among the Florida tomato industry participants. This resulted from the two hurricanes that had recently inflicted damage to the state and the looming potential threat of a third, Hurricane Ivan, whose path was being tracked closely by meeting participants.

In spite of the resulting overall reduced attendance figures, those present were able to participate in a blend of business and social events.
One of the more popular gatherings was the annual Florida Tomato Committee meeting, held the afternoon of Sept. 9. A main agenda item was the update on the FTC marketing and promotion efforts. During her report, Ms. Winters cited statistics to back up her news of the gain in field-grown tomato sales.

She told the audience that scanner data attained through the Perishables Group reflected the strongest figures in the Southeast, where field-grown tomatoes gained back the share of sales lost the prior season.

Field-Grown Growth
"Field-grown tomatoes increased more than 5 percent (56 percent of total sale dollars)," she said. "This captured 60.3 percent of the total tomato volume, with dollar increases of over 5 percent (56 percent of total sales dollars). This is up from the 2002-03 season, wherein the field-grown share of the tomato category was down 4 percent from 2001-02."

In the Northeast, field-grown tomato movement increased 3 percent, with tomatoes on-the-vine experiencing a slight 1.5 percent decrease, she added. Nationally, field-grown tomatoes occupy 33 percent of the category volume and 29 percent of the tomato sales dollars.

Contributing to these increases was the Florida Tomato Committee's market development promotions with 15 retail chains, encompassing more than 5,100 stores throughout the eastern U.S. These activities included "various customized display and sales contests, a national in-produce department television flight program and various educational/training partnerships," she continued. "The contests served to boost Florida tomato sales, while, at the same time, provided the committee with palatable retail-specific sales data revolving around promotion for use in further category planning."

Participating partners reported sales increases this year in Florida tomatoes ranging from 24 to more than 100 percent, she added.
Complementing all retail promotions, the FTC introduced a new retail tool kit, "A Recipe for Success: Ten Key Steps to Increase Tomato Category Sales."

Accomplishments in the foodservice arena included the "Best of the Best" Florida Tomato Student Chef Contest. Finalists were judged by a panel of renowned chefs from the Northeast, and the first place national winner's recipe was Florida Tomato Orange Soup. A photo of the winning entry will submitted to syndicated food writer for media placements that will begin being published this fall.

Consumer-directed activity involved development of a new press kit with a media-resource CD. "This was distributed to food and health writers at daily newspapers and magazines throughout North America," Ms. Winters said. Coordinated through Lewis & Neale Inc., the effort gained "hundreds of articles in important newspapers across the country."

Florida tomatoes were also featured in a variety of cooking segments on television from April through June of 2004. Francis Anthony, know as "The Love Chef," represented the FTC and showcased dishes with fresh tomatoes during a publicity tour for his new book, Low-Carb Italian Cooking.

Outside of the United States, Federal funds through the Market Access Program aided with the promotions conducted in Canada.

Will Maintain Regulations
Also during the Florida Tomato Committee annual meeting, the group voted to maintain the initial regulations and marketing policy already in place for the 2004-05 season.

In an interview following the meeting's adjournment, FTC Manager Reggie Brown said that the primary focus of the committee during the upcoming season will be on "an aggressive effort to be proactive in the food safety area." He said the FTC will be developing regulations that will require the facilities of all "first handlers" of Florida tomatoes to successfully complete the third-party audit process for food safety and sanitation.

"This is the biggest move we've ever made," Brown stressed. "(If approved) We should be the first with a Federal Marketing order to include this requirement in our regulations."

In addition to the FTC meeting, the annual gatherings for the Florida Tomato Exchange and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange were also conducted on Sept. 9.

Other highlights of the conference included the Florida Tomato Institute on Sept. 7. Among the topics of the reports relating to ongoing research were disease and pest control in tomatoes, marketing issues, and development of new tomato varieties.

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

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