Hazera Seeds has developed an innovative truss tomato variety together with a packaging concept designed to significantly reduce waste. Michael Barker hears more from fresh produce chain manager Arjan van Steekelenburg.
Tell us more about the new six-pack tomato. What’s the variety called and what are its particular attributes?
This is the Sensera variety, which fits perfectly in the most popular British premium tomato SKU. It is an aromatic, deep-red tomato with a perfect sweet-to-sour ratio. The most particular qualities are its green parts; they are thick and stand high over the truss, and they have a fresh look and keep very long on the retail shelf and right to the consumer's plate. This will give an almost ever-lasting fresh appearance to the truss. I know you can’t eat the green part, but I am sure it adds to the consumer experience. The tomato will hold to the truss strongly and exceptionally long - up to three weeks.
Did the ‘handles’ develop naturally or was it produced with packaging reduction in mind?
As the development of varieties takes many years we did not purposely have packaging reduction in mind, but we wanted to develop a tomato which would have an additional visual attractiveness next to its deep red colour. We did not even notice the “natural handle” until we started to promote to the trade and retailers in our demo supermarket, where we always picked it like a six-pack - so we started to use this specific trait as one of its main features. An additional advantage was that the tomatoes stick to the calyx quite firmly and for a long time.
What is the band made of and how does it hold the tomato pack together? Is it fully recyclable?
We are still looking for the right material and method to apply the band to the truss. We are challenging partners to co-develop this packaging concept into the recyclable industry standard based on paper. Currently we have a plastic prototype with our natural handle icon and the variety name Sensera on it. This already saves approximately 80 per cent of plastic compared to a normal flow pack or top-seal packaging. The truss will hold itself together, but in a supermarket test we noticed nobody “picks” any tomato loose so the waste on self is almost reduced to zero. That is also a big advantage compared to selling tomatoes loose, although this is not standard in the UK. But this packaging concept might give loose a totally new image!
Is this product already on sale, and if so where? How has it been received?
We have done some small trials in the Netherlands with very good results, where we also promoted it as a local tomato. Because its appearance and the band differentiate it from imported products, we could command a premium price and we now have people asking for it.
To what extent does it help reduce packaging and waste?
Around 80 per cent on packaging compared to traditional packaged produce, so it's a big reduction in waste. Of course you lose a little on protection and handling compared to fully-packed produce, but the band still gives retailers all the possibilities of communicating the chain, shop, producer or brand values to the consumer on point of sale and into the kitchen.
How is its price point in comparison with other tomatoes?
Production is similar to its competitors (it does require a slightly different growing method, on which we can say more), but the only point is the packaging concept is still a concept so if there are companies who are interested in co-developing this into a new industry standard with full automation, we are happy to partner with them.
Is there anything else like this currently on sale?
No - this is a first.
Are you targeting the UK market?
Yes. This is one of the most popular UK segments and we are offering something special in appearance, point of sale options and taste experience.