DAVIS, CA - The innovation horizon has a purple luster to it as a small tomato continues to develop an increasingly large following. Though it is not yet named and branded, culinary artists and consumers are already seeking out what they are calling The Purple Tomato.
“It’s a great eating tomato in any setting, whether that is white-table-cloth Michelin restaurants or small farmer’s markets. It’s already developed a cult following through certain small pockets in the United States, and it doesn’t even have a name yet,” Harold Paivarinta, Red Sun Farms™ Senior Director of Sales, recently told me.
Deep purple from skin to seed, this new fruit is incredibly unique and aligns well with adventurous innovation seekers.
“It’s the only tomato that has this high of a level of antioxidants and has the distinct color all the way through the flesh. It has all the benefits of a blueberry in a category that has a higher consumption, and the exciting thing is we can bring these attributes to other varieties as it gains traction,” Harold explains.
Because, incredibly, the purple product is bioengineered. Cultivated by Norfolk Healthy Produce (NHP), the tomato joins an exclusive club of science-forward fresh offerings approved by the USDA and FDA.
“There’s more and more research showing consumers want these bioengineered products. In our own findings, 80 percent of consumers are very interested in purchasing this product, knowing it’s bioengineered. What they’re primarily concerned about is food safety,” Nathan Pumplin, Chief Executive Officer of NHP, shared. “When I talk to people who are very skeptical about this tomato, they ask, ‘Oh, it has extra nutrition and it’s a beautiful color? I want this.’ There are many items with bioengineered on the label are being purchased by consumers, and the younger generations especially are very open to this technology.”
Coming off an IFPA that showcased strange science-fiction-seeming foods that Gen Z are openly exploring and sharing on Instagram, it makes sense. These are young adults who are more curious than apprehensive about food and technology—just look at the explosive popularity of plant-based meats.
“Consumers’ appetites are always for something new, something different. The beauty of the technology NHP has been able to demonstrate is that you can apply the unique technology across other varieties,” Harold continued before painting a bigger picture for me. “We could have a version of this in every pepper and tomato we offer at Red Sun, enhancing what’s already here and selling.”
That, he said, really is what food science and innovation is about—making an existing item better rather than creating something entirely new.
“The fact that it is building on what we know, in my opinion, makes it far better. If we’re able to make what we offer better through this technology, it just makes those products stronger. And, if bioengineered foods were something new, maybe we’d be a little bit more nervous than we are. But, if you’ve got a bag of Doritos or eaten a box of cereal in the last 25 years, you’ve consumed them already in processed foods. This is the first one in a fresh tomato,” Harold smiled.
Even in fresh, Nathan said, there is still a record of market success regarding bioengineering in golden rice, the Arctic® Apple, potatoes, papayas, and pineapples.
“It may be the first tomato of its kind, but we are not standalone,” Nathan said, expressing gratitude to those who came before him and his team. “Truly, my hat is off to those companies that were brave enough to do it first—we’re just following footsteps in the trail they blazed for us. It made it a lot easier and is much more widely accepted now.”
Nathan is confident there would be far fewer questions raised than our industry may currently perceive, thanks to years of science and technology presence. And once that barrier is crossed, he said, he is sure it will become far more normal and even sought out.
“To Harold’s point about how consumers are certainly always looking for new things, but we don’t see this as a flavor of the day or week. The number one reason that consumers want this is to help the nutrition benefits, and that doesn’t change. That lasts,” Nathan concluded. “We’re very happy to partner with Red Sun Farms to show that, a company that’s so established in delivering excellent quality.”
Harold agreed from the growing perspective as the produce community works to boost the consumption of healthy food.
“I think this is part of the answer. We have to go beyond our normal way of seeing food, to explore new avenues. So we’re thrilled to partner with NHP to introduce something new. It’s going to benefit everyone,” Harold said.
As the 2024 launch approaches, will The Purple Tomato reveal a new side to consumer confidence in produce? Red Sun Farms and Norfolk Healthy Produce are ready to show us.