Meet the Tesco finest* tomato producer
Producer Matthew Simon tells us how modern production methods combined with horticultural expertise create the tastiest finest* Piccolo tomatoes for Tesco.
When are finest* Piccolo tomatoes in season in the UK?
The tomatoes planted in January can be harvested from the start of April onwards, but this year was slower because of the poor light levels in spring. We can control variables like temperature to prolong the season; the only thing you can’t control is daylight, so from November we source our tomatoes from Spain. We’d never put a crop out for the sake of it because our priority is always produce that tastes good; that’s why we turn to Spain when the British weather starts to turn colder.
How do you ensure Piccolos are at their best when they reach customers?
We take care to pack tomatoes on the day of harvest and get them to branches of Tesco throughout the country the next day. Tomatoes contain natural ripening agents, so customers can be confident that they are ready to eat.
What makes British tomatoes special?
Our customers tell us that tomatoes grown in Britain are really important to them. They want to help support British growers and there’s also an element of nostalgia with memories of grandparents growing tomatoes at home. British tomatoes are seasonal and available from April to November. Our British tomatoes are grown by experts in state of the art facilities and we choose only the best varieties that really deliver on quality and flavour.
Are Piccolo tomatoes tricky to grow?
They are difficult to grow because their disease resistance is very low. We persist with them though because, they’re one of the best-tasting varieties available and they also look so good on the vine. Piccolo tomatoes are labour intensive, so we have a dedicated team of harvesters. The team makes sure the Piccolo tomatoes are getting along OK; they select trusses and keep the tomatoes clean. It’s a fiddly, selective job that’s done by hand because no machine could give it the right level of attention.
Have modern methods improved British-grown tomato crops?
Tomatoes have always been a strong crop in the UK, but with advances in technology we get a better quality and yield. We use glass houses that are about 6.5m tall, everything inside is computer controlled, from shading to temperature sensors. Because we can accurately control the conditions in the glass houses, we can reduce the amount of fuel needed to heat them and provide the optimum conditions for the tomatoes to develop and grow.
How do you care for the environment?
We’ve been influenced by organic methods and more natural ways of growing, we use a method called ‘bio control’ which is where insects are used to control insects. The plants respond well to it. We also run energy evaluations with the Carbon Trust to make sure that our practices are in balance with the environment.
Do you work with Tesco to develop new varieties?
Selection for new tomato varieties initially starts with consumer research and focus groups. This information and feedback is shared with our growers and breeders. This is very important as it takes around six to seven years to fully develop a new variety of tomato and we want to make sure we get it right.
Our growers, working together with the seed houses, will also trial new material throughout the whole year. This new material is monitored closely with the grower through benchmarking, tasting and customer panels so only the best tomatoes are chosen to be sold in-store. We listen to our customers and work together with our growers, to deliver great tasting tomatoes to Tesco.
See all tomato recipes here