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SPECIAL EDITION:
Tomato/Salmonella Outbreak
Insights and Analysis

Tomato Producers Line Up
To Promote Their Own

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, June 6, 2008

Producers of tomatoes not implicated in the salmonella outbreak are hoping consumers will still be open to consuming tomatoes and that retailers will make plenty of shelf space available to these “permitted” varieties.

Here is press release one vendor based in Texas sent out:

50% OF TOMATOES DEEMED SAFE FOR RAW CONSUMPTION
Cherry, Grape and Tomatoes-on-the-Vine Varieties
not Subject to Salmonella Alert

San Antonio, TX — Desert Glory, which markets the NatureSweet brand, and is North America’s largest grower of greenhouse tomatoes, is calling attention to the fact that more than half of all tomatoes bought in grocery stores in the US are not subject to the June 1, 2008 Salmonella alert issued by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to the alert, FDA advised consumers in New Mexico and Texas to “limit their tomato consumption to tomatoes that have not been implicated in the outbreak.” The FDA noticed specifically stated that cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached have not been implicated in the outbreak.

In a letter addressed to its customers, Bryant Ambelang, Desert Glory Chief Marketing Officer, reinforces the safety aspects of its greenhouse operations. “All of our NatureSweet branded tomatoes are grown in a highly controlled greenhouse environment, which allows us to regulate all aspects of tomato production and processing.”

Ambelang has indicated it is important that consumers understand there is significant availability of cherry, grape and on-the-vine tomatoes, which account for more than 50 percent of all tomatoes bought in U.S. grocery stores. Desert Glory says that food safety takes a top priority, which is why the company invests in greenhouse operations, private wells, continual testing procedures and 100% product traceability.

The FDA warning is tough enough… Texas is a big state, so the loss of sales in Texas and New Mexico certainly will matter.

The two wild cards in this issue are these: 1) Will consumers outside of the Texas/New Mexico zone veer away from tomatoes, not wanting to take any risk? 2) Will those in the zone switch to tomato varieties that are available, or will they steer clear of all tomatoes?

The answer will depend on the media and how stores merchandise and market. If retailers shrink shelf space and abandon tomato promotions, the ride will be rocky indeed for major suppliers.

Now that the FDA has changed policies and is allowing sale of all types of tomatoes from many producing regions the question changes: will consumers in Texas, New Mexico and/or elsewhere shy away from tomatoes because of all the bad publicity?

Much will still depend on how retailers market and merchandise in the aftermath of this situation.

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