The snack tomato: a product for the future
Wednesday, 30 June 2010
In 2007, a new product took the tomato shelves in supermarkets by storm: the sweet snack tomato. If packaged right, a brand can quickly catch a shopper’s eye. Tasty-looking tomatoes, packaged in a plastic container similar in appearance to a cocktail shaker. Appropriately enough, this type of packaging is referred to as ‘the shaker’, and at the time, was an entirely new concept on the market. It was obviously a popular concept as well since we now see this packaging used with other products such as cucumber and sweet peppers.
Now, three years later, Van Kester-Weijs’s TomBon tomato is still a success, and this is not only due to the product’s innovative packaging. “We are still positive about the product; if we weren’t, we wouldn’t continue to market it,” Maurice Weijs of Van Kester-Weijs tells us. “The snack-tomato segment has experienced significant growth. Although this growth is stabilising, the snack tomato is definitely a product for the future. It is a convenient product that lends itself well to a variety of consumption opportunities: on the way to work, at lunch, in the car, and in the evening as a snack. Besides, I have not seen many children who don’t like this tomato.” In other words, the company has a great deal of faith in the product. Van Kester-Weijs had already had the requisite experience in the taste segment. Established in 1998, the company started out cultivating cocktail tomatoes such as the Aranca and Ballerina varieties, also Enza Zaden varieties. “These varieties had good growth, taste and shape,” Maurice says. In spite of this success, four years ago, the company made the switch to the new segment of snack tomatoes. These days, the company has three hectares of the Heartbreaker variety, and three of a new Enza Zaden snack tomato. So why make this switch? Their reasoning: “It is still the product of the future, and we believe in it. In the extensive taste test conducted by the weekly
publication “Groente & Fruit” last year, we came in second with Heartbreaker, whereas the winning product is in a more expensive segment. And during our own consumer testing which we carry out locally on a small scale to learn more about what consumers want, we found that our snack tomatoes are quite popular in the market.”
The market for the TomBon is fruit and vegetable speciality stores, and primarily the supermarkets of Northwest Europe: the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom and a small section of candinavia. This is also a market that, in general, does not tend to shift. It is a strong brand, certainly for retailers and traders. This is unusual, since for Van Kester-Weijs, brand development is not at the top of the list of priorities. “For us, a good relationship with our customers is more important than a strong brand. If you have that, the product will sell itself. We definitely examine the possibilities to develop a brand, but then it must be unique, a complete concept. If it’s not a complete concept, then anything that can be copied will be ‘stolen’ by someone else, and they will be the one to profit from something you have worked hard to develop.” By ‘complete’, Maurice is referring to the innovative packaging he devised for his product: the shakers. At the time, it was unique, and an entirely different concept. “We really liked the packaging, and it was something totally different. This was a way for us to set our product apart on the shelf. An added bonus is that the shakers offer protection for the product, and make them easier for consumers to take with them. You can even set the shaker down next to you in the car.” This type of packaging is now also seen used for snacksized sweet peppers and cucumbers. “It’s a bit of a pity that an idea like this can be copied so easily,” the inventor of the concept says. In this case, the expression “every is advantage has its advantage” also applies here. After all, it appears as though a real trend has begun when it comes to this type of packaging, and this way, one product can boost the sales of another. “It can be a fairly good way to stimulate sales,”
Marketing on product shelves
What is Van Kester-Weijs’s vision on ‘vegetable-shelf’ marketing? “There is definitely room for improvement, particularly when it comes to clear communication. The range of tomatoes in the stores is so large these days that shoppers no longer know which tomato is suitable for which purpose. Good flyers or the use of symbols to explain this could be a good way to solve this. As far as this goes, growers or grower associations should ‘educate’ the supermarkets.” Enza Zaden could also play an important role in these efforts. Timing Taste is, after all, the platform that promotes collaboration throughout the entire chain in order to create a win-win situation for all of the parties. Maurice definitely agrees: “First of all, Enza Zaden can of course contribute with its varieties, but it can definitely also make a difference when it comes to marketing and communication. We have a common interest, and could grow well together, and complement one another. This is something we are not really doing yet.”