North American tomato industry sees 'dramatic change' in recent years -

North American tomato industry sees 'dramatic change' in recent years

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North American tomato industry sees 'dramatic change' in recent years

The North American tomato market has undergone a dramatic transformation over the last 15 years, with major changes to how and where the fruit is produced and certain segments 'cannibalizing' others at the retail level.

Agricultural and resource economist from the University of California, Davis, Roberta Cook, spoke to prior to a seminar to be held tomorrow by the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA) entitled 'The Saturation Effect- Tomato Market'. toms2

Cook explained one major change seen in the U.S., Mexican and Canadian tomato industries since the turn of the millennium was significant growth in the use of protected agriculture - which constitutes anything from plastic tunnels to high-tech greenhouses.

"One big point to understand is how open field production of tomatoes has been changing in the last decade and a half," she said.

"There has been very rapid growth in protected agriculture, and that has cannibalized production in the open field.

"But when you look at the North American fresh tomato market, it includes all of those things. It’s not like in the Netherlands where it's all greenhouse, or Spain where it's primarily protected agriculture. In the U.S. we have a huge open field tomato industry."

Cook said there had been a 'major shift' by Mexican growers into protected agriculture, mainly represented by shadehouses in the country. In the biggest production state, Sinaloa, many of the largest producers have transitioned almost exclusively to protected agriculture.

However, in the U.S., open field produces have largely continued to produce tomatoes in the same way, and the development of the greenhouse industry has principally come from players outside of the agricultural industry.

Mexico has also seen new entrants from greenhouse firms into the industry, which are typically located in high elevation areas in central Mexico where the climate allows for a year-round production.

In the past, the supply of fresh tomatoes to the North American market during the winter just came from open field producers in Sinaloa and the U.S. state of Florida, but the rise of protected agriculture has turned the tables.

"Each region of Mexico has different climate conditions that affect type of tech used," Cook said.

"But in general there has been a dramatic change in production regions and seasons for fresh market tomatoes in Mexico in last decades and a half, with the advent of more greenhouses in central Mexico that are shipping almost year-round.

"In past there was only one area that exported fresh market tomatoes in the summer and fall, and that was the state of Baja, which was complementary with Sinaloa. But now with these greenhouses in the U.S. and Mexico, even in winter Sinaloa has competition from producers."

Canada's tomato industry, on the other hand, is largely represented by greenhouses and isn't able to produce significant volume in the winter.

Because of their marketing window, Canadian growers are therefore now competing with open field growers in some 30 other U.S. states including California and Mexican greenhouse growers.

U.S. retail tomato market trends

Looking specifically at the U.S. retail market, where Cook estimates around half of tomatoes from any source are sold, with the rest going to foodservice, data from Nielsen Perishables Group shows the whole tomato category has not undergone growth over recent years.

However, a higher proportion of U.S. retail tomatoes sold are now grown under protected agriculture, or 'hot houses', and there have been significant changes to the market shares of different tomato categories.

The data shows the snacking category has grown rapidly over the years, cannibalizing the tomato on-the-vine category, but still has not stimulated growth in the whole retail tomato category.

In addition, far larger volumes of retail tomatoes are now produced under protected agriculture.

"In a decade or so we have gone from hot-house tomatoes being a very small portion of what is sold at retail to around half," Cook said.

"You rarely see an industry change this rapidly and dramatically. There has been a total transformation in the type of tomatoes consumed today, compared to during the 1990s."

"So all in all, the players in the industry are different today, there's been a major change in the way tomatoes are produced, and there's been major growth in regions that are competing at the same time today, versus 20 years ago, both for greenhouse and open field production."

Photo: Wikimedia Creative Commons

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