When consumers buy vegetables in the summer months, they know that it is likely coming from local farmers or growers that are from the same region, for the most part. When those same consumers buy vegetables throughout the winter, do you think that they stop and look at where they are grown or who they are grown by? Probably not.
As a family owned greenhouse vegetable company, we want to ensure consumers always have access to the best that we grow, regardless of the season. We are growing through the winter months in Delta, Ohio to help tackle the future of fresh by providing a very wide variety of tomatoes. We have recently planted our new crops in Leamington, ON greenhouses to start picking in early spring. We are doing everything we can to bridge the gaps in seasons. Why? Because we care about the future of fresh.
I recently had the opportunity to chat at length with Jordan Okumura from AndNowuknow.com (ANUK), a leading produce industry media outlet, about the future of fresh. In Part 1 of our Q&A, we talk about the future of fresh and what it means to NatureFresh™ Farms.
Jordan Okumura: How is NatureFresh™ addressing the “future of Fresh” and what does that mean to company specifically?
Chris Veillon: Our expansion into Ohio is a major statement, especially for a company like NatureFresh™ Farms who has only been marketing its product for more than five years.
We have pledged to grow in the Midwest in an area where you typically do not see greenhouses. The investment in Fulton County was not only about economic development and creating jobs; it was about a need to grow our business and provide exceptional greenhouse grown vegetables in the winter.
The future of fresh is dependent on meeting the increasing demand for fresh produce, regardless of the season. The need to reduce food miles; increase quality, taste and shelf life. We are very brand centric in our position, especially when it comes to our tomatoes, hence why we created the OhioRed ™ & TOMZ ™ programs.
As a vertically integrated organization, we have the ability to control aspects of our business; from building to growing to packing to shipping to marketing our items. Not all growers have the ability to build their own facilities and then complete the sell through to retail. Our sister company South Essex Fabricating Inc. is our building arm; they have built all 45 acres of our recent project in Delta, Ohio.
JO: Why does the Ohio expansion make sense to NatureFresh™?
CV: With expansion comes the opportunity to be on more people’s radar. Once we started talking about growing through the winter in Ohio, people started to listen in a major way. Our OhioRed™ TOV’s took off like wildfire even before we had picked our first tomato. OhioRed™ has become a household name for people in Ohio and the Midwest.
The future of fresh is very bright for NatureFresh™.
JO: How are consumer buying behaviors and trends influencing the way they shop for produce and how is NatureFresh™ responding to those changes?
CV: Consumers are creatures of habit for the most part. They shop the same store and buy the same products week-in and week-out. It can be tough to change habits, for better or for worse. Those who have been conditioned to purchase mediocre tomatoes from November to March, have forgotten in that in the dead of winter you can get an awesome tasting tomato.
This past weekend, I randomly surveyed ten people in a supermarket produce aisle as I stood by the tomato category, here are the questions I asked them and how they answered:
Do you buy tomatoes year-round? Three said yes, seven said no because of flavor.
- Is flavor important? All ten said yes.
- Do you buy snacking tomatoes? Four said yes, six said no.
- Do you buy a specific brand? Three said yes, seven said no – just whatever was available.
- Does country of origin matter? Six said yes, four said no.
Consumers who have traditionally purchased a snacking tomato, bought a dry-pint red grape tomato. It was for a garnish on a salad or to go along with a dip or veggie tray, it was never the focal point of the discussion. Building a snacking program that encompasses more than one item ensures continuity in a category program that can support multiple items. The TOMZ ™ Snacking tomato line does just that:
- Red Grape
- Yellow Grape
- Orange Grape
- Red Cherry
- Mixed Grape (red, yellow, orange)
- Mixed Snacking (medley of colors & flavors)
- Sweet Red Cocktail
JO: Chris, why do you think the new snacking innovations from NatureFresh™ are bring received so successfully?
CV: We had already begun the snacking journey when we launched the TomBar™ and TomBall™ program earlier this year. We have been very successful because it has given consumers the opportunity to hand select what they want. Not only does this reduce food waste, it is increasing the quality of product a consumer is purchasing. The turns at retail are more frequent, so consumers are always getting fresh product. Consumers are selecting the quantity, color, and type that they want which will reduce the amount people will dispose of if they don’t eat the entire container. All of our TomBar™ and TomBall™ merchandising units have our Ohio grown TOMZ™ in them and only ours. This way the consumer has consistent quality week in week out from the same grower/marketer and from the same farm, which is typically unheard of at this time of year.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of my conversation with Jordan in late January 2017.
Happy New Year everyone!