FLAVOUR and quality are the two characteristics driving ongoing innovation in the highly competitive $1 billion-a-year fresh tomato sector, according to Monsanto. Under its De Ruiter brand, the
company held its Living Proof Tomato Innovation Day in Victoria on November 16. It was the third such event Monsanto has held to educate growers and other industry stakeholders to build knowledge and to invest in the Australian industry. Growers, suppliers, retailers and educators gathered at the annual event.
Managing director of market research firm Freshlogic, Martin Kneebone, told 80 attendees the maturity of the market and large selection, is a strong indicator of the potential of the fresh produce industry. “It’s the closest category that resembles an FMCG and is an indicator for how the fresh produce sector will evolve in the future,” Mr Kneebone said. “It’s a mature category with more than 15 Sku’s in a typical supermarket so it is highly competitive and consumers are increasingly looking for flavour and quality.”
It is this demand for flavour and quality which is driving Monsanto, De Ruiter’s parent company, to invest significantly into consumer insights as part of its tomato research and breeding programs. Significantly, this investment has shown that of all the factors associated in product selection, taste is the one that stands out. Taste, according to Monsanto consumer sensory lead, Chow-Ming Lee, is a complex chemical interaction between sugar and volatiles which have a key role in flavour and aroma development. He said this complex science was used as part of a broader picture into the development of new varieties. “Understanding what drives flavour and the combination that provides the most enjoyable experience for consumers is core to understanding how we can ensure these characteristics are present in new hybrids,” Mr Lee said.
Monsanto tomato breeder, Tomas Lomas, said the company had invested in the mapping of tomato genes that express flavour. This mapping has allowed the company to use traditional breeding methods to select for these genes in the development of new varieties. “Monsanto has completed field trials in Australia to test some exciting new varieties that are showing promise in key global markets such as Europe and North American,” Mr Lomas said. “These trials will ensure Australia growers have access to the latest diversity in tomato varieties on offer for consumers. “This will mean that growers have a more diverse range of tomatoes available that are suited for Australian growers and conditions and consumers benefit as a result with the better quality tomatoes on the supermarket shelves.”