Taking Tomatoes Beyond Brix

When consumers bite into a beautiful, red tomato they expect delicious taste and flavor. Historically in the vegetable industry, taste and flavor in tomatoes has been determined using Brix* because it’s easy to measure. Handheld Brix meters can easily be carried out to a grower’s field and with a crush of the tomato one gets the Brix reading. While Brix roughly measures the fruit’s sugar and mineral content, it fails to tell you about the fruit’s texture, smell, color, juiciness — all items influencing the end consumer.

When consumers are shopping for a tomato, they look at it, touch it and even smell it — using all their senses to evaluate their options before they make a purchase. It’s not until they get home and eat it, they decide if the tomato met their expectations — which determines if they’ll go back to the store and buy it again. Due to the multitude of factors that affect taste and flavor, growers often choose to compete on agronomic or other characteristics such as shelf-life and price instead. This could mean that flavor isn’t a priority when selecting what tomato product to grow.

De Ruiter™ is working to change that. Our consumer research and development team, sensory scientist and breeders are hard at work combining the right agronomic traits to bring taste, flavor and enjoyment back to the tomato eating experience. “It’s how we build masterpieces of artwork, bringing science and art together for our growers,” Dr. Chow-Ming Lee says.

De Ruiter’s own sensory scientist, Dr. Chow-Ming Lee* leads the Monsanto Vegetable’s consumer R&D team. His team is working to understand what drives taste and what makes a flavorful tomato variety. They deliver that information to the breeders, who use their passion and in-depth knowledge, along with their world-class expertise in molecular biology to develop varieties that bring the total package together — flavor, disease resistance and yield. Because of this, everyone in the chain, from growers to consumers, benefits from De Ruiter’s best-in-class seeds.

The consumer R&D team conducts cutting-edge, multi-year, extensive research to understand what taste and flavors consumers may prefer. For example, Dr. Lee and the team recently completed a taste test in three countries in Europe where 18 varieties were tested with consumers across three days. During flavor research like this, when consumers say “I like this tomato,” our team works to understand why — does it have a better texture, color or aroma? Then, they translate that information into measurements so De Ruiter can test varieties early in the development phases.

We hope that this research will enable us to one day identify to our De Ruiter grower, packer, shipper and retailer customers, the tomatoes that consumers prefer for taste and flavor — creating confidence in the product. We’re doing this research to be able to bring insights to our customers on how to deliver better products to consumers and create repeat purchases.

Through our many relationships throughout the industry, we are working to educate growers, packer shippers, retailers, dieticians and food service accounts in order to make them comfortable with the tomato varieties they choose to grow knowing that they will be those that consumers want. There is an opportunity for consumers to choose the tomato variety they purchase in the store based on the flavors they like — similar to the way apples are currently sold. At De Ruiter, we are excited to be your change partner to bring this new taste and flavor experience to all shoppers. Let us help you grow your next masterpiece.

*Dr. Chow-Ming Lee is the Consumer Sensory Lead for Monsanto, responsible for sensory and consumer testing of fruit and vegetables.  Chow-Ming has published more than 20 publications and abstracts in the area of sensory and consumer sciences. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Georgia, Athens, with an emphasis in Sensory Evaluation. As most seed companies don’t typically have a sensory scientist, Chow-Ming brings an advantage to De Ruiter because he works to bring consumers into the process. His primary focus is to bridge instrumental measurements, sensory properties and consumer liking. By understanding what drives flavor and consumer preference, his work helps to shape fruit and vegetable breeding and product introductions.