Tomatoes for all seasons

Thursday, 24 March, 2011

d’VineRipe’s $30 million Stage 2 expansion of its tomato glasshouse in South Australia will provide considerable insurance against extreme weather events and assure the retail sector of consistent supply, according to joint venture partner Perfection Fresh Australia.

“Field-grown crops are at the mercy of nature and extreme weather events such as those we’ve seen in some parts of Australia this summer. With a protected crop, the output remains proportionally consistent to the amount spent on seeds, planting and production, providing a better return on investment,” said Perfection Fresh Chief Executive Officer Michael Simonetta.

The expansion will double d’VineRipe’s output inside four years and address demands from a retail sector under pressure from consumers clamouring for quality tomatoes.

“Stage 2 substantially reinforces d’VineRipe’s ability to manage consistent supply. Our immediate focus is to meet the demands of our domestic retail customers. With 17 hectares to draw from, even during crop rotation periods, we will be able to level out the supply graph to minimise peaks and troughs in the production cycle.

“Another significant advantage of protected cropping is a reduction in the potential for diseases following excessive rainfall. As well, one hectare of the glasshouse is capable of yielding 10 times that of tomatoes grown in the same-sized open field,” Simonetta said.

Everyone wants more tomatoes

A report by global information company The Nielsen Company showed Australia’s tomato category had grown 13% in the past year and tomatoes were among the top four products driving vegetable industry growth.

According to a recent report by Australian specialist food market analysis company Freshlogic, the tomato category has been a long-term driver of growth for retail vegetables. The category now contributes 14-15%, or $840 million per annum, of retail fresh vegetable sales. Tomatoes rank as the third-top vegetable purchased behind carrots and potatoes, the report says.

Perfection Fresh distributes the majority of four specialty lines grown at d’VineRipe to supermarkets throughout Australia. A smaller volume is distributed to foodservice customers from its central market stands in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

“The biggest growth in demand we have experienced has been for truss and specialty tomatoes such as Romatherapy and Il Bello Rosso baby roma tomatoes. They have been enormously well received since they were launched with the glasshouse’s Stage 1 in 2007,” Simonetta said.

“Across the board, today’s tomatoes are of better quality and flavour and there’s more choice - all of which is contributing to increasing interest in tomatoes overall. There has also been a growing awareness of the link between fruit and vegetable consumption and wellness and, in particular, the health benefits associated with eating tomatoes which are rich in the antioxidant lycopene. The influence of television lifestyle cooking shows and general awareness about glasshouse and specialty tomatoes are also increasing interest.”

“As Stage 2 moves towards delivering a more significant volume, we will invest more in educating consumers about the benefits of glasshouse-grown tomatoes - particularly how consistently great they look and taste,” Simonetta said.

“We are also researching and developing new varieties and their commercialisation and working hard to ensure we stay ahead of demand.”

Simonetta said Romatherapy and Il Bello Rosso tomatoes would account for 25% of total production once Stage 2 was operational. One hectare would be reserved to grow five specialty lines in Perfection Fresh’s Tomato Medley pack with the remainder devoted to Saladette and d’VineRipe truss tomatoes - both loose and prepacked.

d’VineRipe is a joint venture between Perfection Fresh and diverse investment company The Victor Smorgon Group. When Stage 2 of the total $65 million, 17-hectare development opened on 22 February it delivered Australia’s largest tomato glasshouse to use leading-edge pad and fan climate-control technology.

About Perfection Fresh

Founded in 1978, Perfection Fresh is serviced by fresh produce growers across Australia and supplies specialised fruit and vegetable lines including Broccolini baby broccoli, The Original grape tomatoes, The Original golden grape tomatoes, baby red capsicums, Vine Sweet Minicaps baby capsicums, Qukes baby snacking cucumbers, Romatherapy baby roma tomatoes, Royal Pom pomegranates, mangoes and grapes to premier food retailers, processors and distributors Australia-wide and internationally.

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