3/18/2011 – MAITLAND, Fla. — Written by The Packer, Doug Ohlemeier. Trying to ramp up shopper interest in preparing the state’s tomatoes in different ways, Florida’s tomato industry is working to promote tomato consumption through a variety of promotions.
The Florida Tomato Committee is planning foodservice and consumer recipe contests, and is using the state’s chef to develop simple recipes featuring the state’s signature vegetable to encourage more in-home cooking and meal preparation that feature tomatoes.
It’s also launching a foodie awards program to recognize foodservice professionals who use tomatoes in their dishes.
The committee also is promoting tomatoes through retail promotions, and is planning to revamp its website and spread the word about tomatoes more through social media.
“Our outreach combines some of the more powerful purchase drivers and motivators we found from our consumer research,” said Samantha Winters, the committee’s director of education and promotion. “Consumers want recipes. And we give them that.”
To help encourage shoppers to incorporate tomatoes into their dining, the committee is using Justin Timineri, executive chef of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, to develop simple and nutritious recipes.
Winters says Timineri likes to incorporate simplicity and nutrition in his dishes, which works well for Florida tomatoes because the chef wants to inspire people to work more with fresh ingredients.
Winters said the industry wants to encourage Americans to cook more with their families.
“They don’t need fancy equipment to create some innovative and great dishes, whether cooking for family or entertaining by preparing small dishes,” she said. “We have some entertaining ideas for that. Cooking is a favorite pastime we really want to celebrate. They can prepare fresh tomatoes in different ways.”
To recognize other chefs and restaurants, the tomato industry is launching its Florida Tomato Foodie Awards.
Beginning in April, the committee plans to honor restaurants and chefs who celebrate the Florida tomato in innovative ways through great dishes, and restaurants that highlight tomatoes on their menu.
Winters said foodservice operators can nominate one of their customers, and the committee plans to reward them for their creativity and being a great customer by awarding $900 the restaurant or chefs gift cards while the foodservice operator can win a $100 gift card.
The chefs must provide a statement on why they love cooking with Florida tomatoes. Entry forms will be provided on the committee’s website, www.floridatomatoes.org, Winters said.
The foodie contest will run in April, May and June before taking a summer hiatus during Florida’s off-season and resuming in the fall.
The committee plans to add increased functionality to the website, which the committee plans to relaunch in April. The new version should have more interactivity and allow consumers to upload photos to accompany their favorite tomato recipes. The site plans to also spotlight winning restaurants, Winters said.
To encourage consumers to use more tomatoes in their cooking and dining, the committee is sponsoring a consumer recipe contest.
Contest entries can feature old family favorites or new experimental successes. Chef Timineri and the committee plan to review the entries and the committee plans to publicize a winner every month during the tomato’s peak April-to-June season.
The chance to win a $500 gift card should help encourage consumer recipe excitement, Winters said. The committee plans to publicize those recipes through blogs, newsletters and news releases.
“We are celebrating Florida tomatoes and celebrating the people who use them in great ways,” Winters said. “We are trying to get everyone enthused about it through the recipe exchange.
“Because of the economy and their lack of time, people are so bogged down with all of these things going on, we want to show them how cooking can be real simple, easy and fun. Cooking with family or friends, that’s a favorite pastime we’d like to see a lot of participation with today.”
In its retail promotions, the committee uses its merchandisers to work with supermarket chains on building strong displays to spur movement.
Winters said the merchandisers are actively setting up display and sales contests and working with individual Southeastern, Northeastern and Midwestern chains for customized promotions beginning in April.
The committee is distributing a retail tool kit that promotes best handling practices and communicates research gleaned from the West Dundee, Ill.-based Perishables Group on how retailers can best promote tomatoes through point-of-purchase materials, including tear-off recipe cards.
The committee works with trade, print, online and broadcast media to tie tomatoes into important events and occasions such as Easter and Memorial Day, Cinco de Mayo, national salad month, June prostate health awareness month and Florida tomato month in April.
To promote its activities, the industry plans to go further into social media, especially with its revamped website.
Winters said the committee has partnered with some online communities that have been tweeting on the tomato industry’s behalf, such as www.cookwork.com, which tweets recipes.