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Western tomato volume on the upswing

by Tim Linden | August 17, 2009
August is the month during which 48 states are producing tomatoes, according to David Cook, sales manager of Deardorff Family Farms in Oxnard, CA. Hence, commercial production from California and Baja California, Mexico, is designed to drop off a bit during the time that local production and home-grown deals around the United States proliferate.

"Late next week, supplies will get a little heavier," Mr. Cook said Aug. 7.

He is expecting the market also to get a bit stronger, noting that a number of the local deals around the country are said to be ending a bit early because of weather situations. And a look at the weather maps on Aug. 10 showed a lot of rain around the country. But the longtime Deardorff company executive said that it will be September before supplies and demand really begin to pick up. Virtually all tomato shippers and buyers echoed those same sentiments, including Francisco Clouthier, general manager of Maui Fresh International in Los Angeles. "August is usually a bad month, and it is no different this year," he said, speaking of the market price.

He added that demand is off as is expected, and supplies are also down quite a bit from both California and Baja California. "Romas are very tight, and vine ripes are also very, very short," he said Monday, Aug. 10. "The mature green deal is also light, as the Central Valley guys had a bloom drop because of a heat wave, so they are short in supplies."

But he added that the lower supplies are not a problem at this time of the year because of the relative lack in demand. Mr. Clouthier said that it appeared that supplies of all varieties would pick up by the middle of September.

Mr. Cook said that for the foreseeable future, which means through October, there should be good supplies from the West, though he added that Mother Nature can always change that situation.

Numerous grower-shippers and buying brokers who were interviewed by The Produce News indicated that the economy had played a role in tomato demand this summer, especially resulting in a decreased demand for some of the specialty tomato categories. Joe Bernardi, president of Bernardi & Associates in Nogales, AZ, said that some retailers are adopting a back-to- basics in-store schematic and are trying to eliminate SKUs that might not be selling as well because they are higher priced. But he said that the traditional tomato items, such as vine ripes and the many SKUs that make up the round products, are still doing fairly well.

(For more on the California/Baja tomato deal, see the Aug. 17, 2009, issue of The Produce News.)