Five Questions

By Hannah Wallace September 30, 2004

Joseph Esformes' favorite tomato is the "Florida 47," which he describes as "excellent tasting" and "good producing." Esformes would know a lot about the subject. He is a co-managing partner and director of marketing and sales for Pacific Tomato Growers, the company co-founded 80 years ago by his family and Heller Brothers Packing Company. As well as tomatoes, the company markets watermelons, asparagus, peppers, eggplant, squash, cucumbers and citrus under the "Sunripe" label. He and his brother and co-managing partner, Nathan Esformes, spend half the year in California, where they also have operations, and here in Manatee County, where they hire 1,500 to 2,000 employees seasonally and 400 year-round.

How big a role does Manatee County play in Florida's tomato industry?

It plays a very significant role, especially during the months of November and December, and April and May.

Is your competition global or domestic?

Both. We have competition within the state of Florida. We have competition with California, and also with Canada, Mexico and Holland. Our major global competition is Canada and Mexico.

What's the fastest growing segment of your market?

The grape tomato category-it's shaped like a grape with an elongated shape, and is sweet. The roma category is also a fast growing segment. Both are used in salads and in food service (in restaurants and buffets) and the food industry-the fast food restaurants and restaurants as a whole-has been growing tremendously.

What new technologies have most changed the way your business works?

The development of new seed varieties that are high in flavor and appearance. The ongoing work we've done with the University of Florida as far as disease and pest control. And also the development of industry-wide food safety programs and certification.

Is there a difference between a good tasting tomato and a good shipping tomato?

We try to constantly get a better eating tomato that would also ship well. Twenty-five years ago, good shipping tomatoes were developed, but they had no flavor. We've been moving away very aggressively toward tomatoes that taste good and also ship well. It's been of paramount importance, and I think we've made a lot of progress over the past 10 years.

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