The Florida Tomato Committee would like to offer some tips on handling and merchandising.
The first key point to having the best tomatoes available to your customers is to handle them properly. If tomatoes are not handled well, they can be damaged. Tomato damage doesn’t always show up right away, so while you may not notice it, when your customer goes to eat it, they definitely will, and that can severely affect repeat sales. There are several ways to make sure that your tomatoes come through your store with the very best quality.
First of all, and this is very important, never store your tomatoes below 55° Fahrenheit. Storing tomatoes at anything below 55° is one of the worst things that you can do to them. A tomato produces a flavor enzyme as it ripens; as soon as the body temperature goes below 55° the enzyme stops producing any more flavor permanently. Even worse, the longer you keep your tomato in the cold, the flavor that has already developed will degrade until it is brought up to a reasonable temperature. Also, when you store a tomato at a cold temperature, you run the risk of having the water inside the tomato expand, a situation that causes individual cells within the tomato to burst. This leaves you with a tomato that may look fine to the naked eye, but will taste mealy when you bite into it.
The second set of handling tips for your tomatoes involve your display. Many retailers insist on displaying their tomatoes stem side down. While this may be considered slightly more attractive to the average person, you must understand that while the tomato is upside down it is being damaged. The shoulders are the softest part of the tomato; leaving them stem-side down will almost always result in bruising of the product.
Avoid dropping boxes of tomatoes even just a foot or two; they will bruise although it may not be noticeable for a few days. Also, try to make sure that you do not stack your tomato display too high. Your best bet for quality is a display that is two to three layers high and is rotated with a high level of frequency.
Now that you have made sure that your tomatoes are of the highest quality, how can you merchandise them properly? One of the best ways to merchandise tomatoes at the benefit of the entire department is to promote them with other produce items. Tomatoes can be promoted easily with avocados, onions, peppers, lettuce, cucumbers and mushrooms. One great trick is to put a small standing display next to your packaged salads. Another method is to put up small signage around the product describing the health benefits, nutritional information and the proper way for the customer to handle their tomatoes when they get them home.
If you have any questions or would like any additional information, including nutrition and health benefits, call Samantha Winters at the Florida Tomato Committee at 407-660-1949.
Hot Tomato Tips
Coring: Using a sharp paring knife make several angled cuts through the stem and under the core.
Seeding: Lay the tomato on its side and halve with a sharp serrated knife. Squeeze each half firmly enough to push out the seeds. Discard seeds.
Slicing: First core the tomato and lay it on its side. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut a very thin slice off both ends and discard. Slice the tomato to desired thickness.
Peeling: To eliminate the skin in cooked dishes, gently lower 2 or 3 tomatoes at a time into enough boiling water to cover. Boil for 15 to 30 seconds, lift into a colander with a slotted spoon. Rinse briefly under cold running water. Peel off and discard skins.
Stuffing Shells: Lay the tomato on its side and cut a very thin slice off the bottom using a sharp serrated knife. Slice off the top 1/4 of the tomato and discard. (The top minus the core may be chopped and added to the filling.) Using a sharp paring knife and spoon, cut and scoop out the flesh, leaving thickish walls. Salt the cavities lightly and invert on a cooling rack for 15 minutes to drain.
Yield: 1 medium tomato, seeded, yields approximately 3/4 cup chopped. 1 large tomato, seeded, yields 1 cup chopped. One pound of tomatoes yields approximately 2-1/2 cups of chopped or 2 cups puréed.
Storage: Tomatoes will ripen to a juicy red on their own when stored at room temperature. Refrigeration kills flavor in fresh tomatoes.