As part of our series into this year's Fruit Logistica Innovation Award (FLIA), we speak with Wouter Adriaensen, communication and marketing manager for Belgian tomato grower Stoffels.
Consumers can 'pick and mix' different varieties of red, orange and yellow, cherry tomatoes from the Automato, a vending machine-style dispenser.
"The cherry tomatoes sit in three different compartments and by pulling down a lever, a number of tomatoes roll out of the machine which means consumers are operating this by themselves and are only touching the tomatoes they have selected," Adriaensen says.
"Pick and mix is usually associated with candy and chocolate, but how about three different colors of cherry tomatoes as a healthy snacking alternative?"
Stoffels produces three varieties under glass; Rivolo (red), Summersun (yellow) and Oranje Star (orange).
"Over the past year the Automato has gone into a few different types of stores for trials and at the moment we are still looking into how we are going to commercialize it, but obviously it's got a lot more potential than just going into regular stores.
"For example, it's suitable for a canteen, in a high school or somewhere similar. Everywhere where there is a candy dispenser of some kind or a vending machine with chocolate, there could also be one of our Automatos.
"In this way we are also promoting the idea of healthy snacking. During break times, people can enjoy a few healthy cherry tomatoes instead of a candy bar or chocolate and so on. By doing this, we are playing a part in boosting healthy eating choices and increasing the European consumption of fruit and vegetables."
Currently Stoffels is considering packaging options for the Automato and how to roll out the innovation.
"It's very easy to fill and replenish and of course we ask customers to only buy refill tomatoes from our company. At the moment the tomatoes go into a paper bag for the consumer to take home and you can see all of the colorful tomatoes inside.
"These days some people think its a bit boring to just eat healthy foods and candy always looks colorful, bright and interesting, so we want to convince people to eat cherry tomatoes over candy with this innovation.
"We are also thinking about using reusable cardboard cups so people can collect them, but we are still thinking about our packaging options."