You’d think I would have issues eating 20+ Cherry Tomatoes before 8AM on a Wednesday – surprisingly, that’s not the case!
I’ve really changed my perspective on Tomatoes. Before I started working at NatureFresh™, I had never eaten them before – now, I’m part of a team that is helping decide the next Tomato varieties that get sold at grocery stores.
I was recruited to the Discovery Center’s consumer panel program as a “Professional Taster” at the beginning of the year. To join this team, I needed to put my taste buds to the test, trying to tell the difference between salty, sweet, sour, and bitter flavors. Thankfully, my buds didn’t fail me, and I passed!
Our Discovery Center, which is a 2.5-acre trial greenhouse and research center, is housed under the same roof as one of our Bell Pepper ranges, so we need to walk (or hop on a golf cart and drive) past the Pepper plants to get to the Discovery Center for tasting panel sessions. So, every week, I don my safety suit – the one that makes us all look like walking-talking marshmallows – and make my way to taste our newest varieties. It’s always a treat to travel down the massive middle walkway and see how much taller the Bell Pepper plants have grown since the week before.
After a quick greeting from the Trial Development team, I get assigned my room number and make my way to the tasting rooms. Once you open the door, you’re immediately awash in a glowing red light. This is a pretty clever part of the consumer panel experience – the red light makes it difficult to tell the true color of the Tomatoes you’re tasting (so it’s easier for you to focus solely on their flavor). The rooms were also built to cancel out any noise from the greenhouse, so there is no way you can get distracted from the Tomatoes you’re about to devour!
At the station inside the room, you’re given a clipboard, a pallet cleanser, and a tray with a range of Tomatoes to sample. As you taste each Tomato, you fill out the form on the clipboard with all your observations. Analyzing and interpreting the flavor profile of each sample is one of the main aspects of the consumer panel process – after all, the Grow-To People pride themselves on having a “flavor-first mentality” (as Matt Q. would say).
It’s always fun to talk with your fellow panelists (after you’re done eating, of course) to see which samples you each liked best. It’s tough to know if you really like the same samples because our Trials team keeps that information top secret – but guessing adds a whole new level of excitement to the process!
I think my favorite part about being a member of the consumer panel team is that we have a direct impact on what people eat – and that is a huge honor! For example, the Tomberry® Tomato went through our Discovery Center program, and whenever consumer panelists ate it, it got incredibly positive reviews. This feedback allowed our team to push the Tomberry® forward and quickly introduce it to the retail space. And now it’s a hit!
Will I be one of the first tasters of a revolutionary Tomato? Will we discover a groundbreaking variety that changes the world of produce forever? Will the Discovery Center uncover an even tinier Tomato than the Tomberry®, breaking our own ‘World’s Smallest Tomato’ record?
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.