We work hard to make sure that events such as The New York Produce Show and Conference, The London Produce Show and Conference and The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference are rich with opportunities for the industry to network, learn and engage in commercial activity. We focus on helping the whole world of produce pivot its attention to the host city, region and country. And we Celebrate Fresh!
Of course, this means we run media programs, consumer influencer programs, student programs, spouse/partner programs, culinary programs, global trade programs, “Thought Leader” panels , Networking Receptions and much more.
In each city we also run a series of regional tours. In Amsterdam, for example, we have produce industry executives attending the event from every continent, except Antarctica! Many have never visited the Netherlands before. It would be a terrible shame if people traveled so far and didn’t get out and about, so this year we have four regional tours as part of the event:
Yet no matter how many programs we offer and how many tours we conduct, there are many other things to see and do, especially in a place such as Holland where the produce industry is celebrated. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to pay a visit to one of many produce-related venues attendees could visit while in the Netherlands:
Miranda van den Ende
Honselersdijk, The Netherlands
Q: How did Tomato World come to be?
A: I was a children’s therapist, which colors my thoughts, as a precursor to opening Tomato World in 2008. The healthy snack tomatoes/baby vegetables concept was taking off in the Netherlands. Every supermarket in the Netherlands wanted to get these Tommies snack tomatoes, and also the mini cucumbers and little sweet peppers.
In the Netherlands, we do a very good job with horticulture — we’re leaders in technology and sustainability — and I thought it would be great to start a place to promote it.
Q: Did you bring in partners to realize your vision?
A: The initiators and biggest sponsors of Tomato World are Greenco and The Greenery BV. We wanted to showcase the country’s ingenious tomato offerings and high tech operations, and create a collaborative platform for knowledge-exchange and innovation. Tomato World houses an education center with workshops, a demo kitchen, and a 1500-square-meter greenhouse hub, where we grow and manage as many as 80 different tomato varieties we get from seed breeders.
When we started, we had 40 companies on board, but the timing of the launch wasn’t ideal because it was right when the economic crisis hit. Tomato World didn’t immediately have a high return on investment, so some left. It is now supported by about 25 companies in Dutch horticulture, while branching out to other sector peers, policy makers, retailers, and consumer groups.
Q: Who is your target audience?
A: We receive visitors from across the Netherlands and from all over the world, retailers and industry executives interested in various aspects of the supply chain. We actually have a huge following in Japan. Our main purpose is business-to-business. In the years we’ve had Tomato World, we thought to have something for consumers. Voedingscentrum, The Netherlands Nutrition Centre, did a consumption study and it clearly shows vegetables are not common in the diets in the Netherlands. Kids usually don’t like vegetables so we must try to change mindset. Kids need to see the growing process and to learn at a young age why vegetables are good to eat, and what they can do for you.
We founded Healthy Food Academy, instigating workshops and tours to teach children and parents about food and the innovation of Dutch horticulture, but for consumers more about the health and nutrition components.
Our new story line is the World Food Challenge to feed nine billion people by 2050. We focus on the efficiencies and sustainable growing, and our exposure there to learn about solutions to the big challenges. We welcome companies attending the Amsterdam Produce Show to come to Tomato World and join in the dialogue.
Q: Upon entering Tomato World, it’s exciting to see the expansive, colorful, and aromatic display, featuring dozens of unique tomato varieties, freshly grown at the onsite greenhouse. Best of all, visitors get to sample them.
A: Visitors have the opportunity to taste, savor and compare flavor and characteristic profiles, and discover often nuanced qualities.
Q: How many of these varieties are available for buyers to incorporate into their produce departments?
A: All are available to market.
Q: If this plethora of varieties is accessible, why don’t we see more choices on supermarket shelves? Is it too costly to mass produce some of these specialty SKUs? Is it a category management issue, a lack of shelf space, or a marketing challenge…?
A: The problem is that for most consumers, the tomato is red, and new varieties come in all colors and characteristics. Consumers may think they’re not ripe or there’s a problem and they leave it on the shelf. Yellow, for example, is associated with sourness.
There are different categories of tomatoes — middle class tomatoes and big class tomatoes — and every variety has a different shelf life, a range of characteristics, and quality measurements… tough skin, juicy, aroma, sweet, sour, firm, etc. It takes years to develop a new variety… cherry, cocktail, loose cherry plum, loose classic, loose intermediate, large vine, etc.
Retailers need to understand these distinctions so they can customize and balance programs to address varied market needs. Packaging is very important too, and the sustainability properties, as well as the cool transport, temperature control, distribution and handling, which all impact shelf life.
We have to work to promote these differences and let consumers taste the varieties. Greenco does demos at retailers. Consumers need to know the variety names and connect them to the different flavors and qualities.
Q: Doesn’t that first involve winning over the supermarket buyer?
A: That’s an important point. Supermarkets carry familiar brands, Tommies and Tasty Tom. Some varieties look the same, but the taste and quality can be different. Retailers want to choose a brand their consumers know. Supermarkets don’t want to take a risk with unfamiliar varieties. And they demand a certain price point. Development of these new specialty varieties can be quite costly. Retailers also express concern of being dependent on a variety that may not be readily available all the time. We want to change that.
This requires cooperation between retailers and suppliers. Story-telling is so important. For instance, we have a tomato variety with a heart inside, which makes for a nice demo. We have a good sustainability story too, employing sophisticated, environmentally friendly climate and energy systems and advanced cultivation techniques.
Q: Does Tomato World conduct varietal R&D and other studies in-house?
A: We do simple flavor tests here, but do not have a research development department. We’re connected with the University of Amsterdam and other institutions pursuing breakthrough research, and Tomato World acts as a valuable resource in collecting and analyzing a wide-range of research results.
In the Netherlands, the horticulture industry utilizes traditional greenhouses, but we also explain about the new technologies and how companies are investing in making crops more sustainable. We also have our own program development projects. One of our partners, for instance, is a greenhouse builder.
We bring in retail employees to share information. Retailers are surprised to learn that it costs around 70,000 Euros to purchase 1 kilo of seeds. For a little plum variety, that could equal one Euro per seed, which is a substantial investment for a producer. It usually takes six years to develop a new variety, and there’s the cost for the research, the tedious development and labor. When retailers understand the costs and challenges, it changes their perspective.
Q: What would you say is the most important takeaway for people visiting Tomato World?
A: Retailers can gain an edge and have something unique to offer consumers, by not only leading with price but by focusing on taste, new and surprising varieties, and the consumer experience.
There is a good lesson: Cutting price is easy, but making sure you always have varieties that give the consumer a great experience is very hard.
Please join us at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference and explore this incredible country with incredible places – like Tomato World!
You can register here.
Hotel rooms at the headquarters hotel are available here.
Look at the Pundit piece announcing the event here.
Take a glance at the brochure here
And check out the website here.
Come to The Kingdom of the Netherlands; come to The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference, where we will be #CelebratingFresh!