Jessica Kerstein, marketing associate with the open field tomato grower Lipman, talks about the importance of tomato flavor and year-round availability.
Tomatoes have been getting a lot of flack in the media lately – especially in regard to taste. How are you working towards changing that perception?
Yes, unfortunately they have. At Lipman, we’ve been working hard to counter that perception. For nearly a decade, we’ve operated a research and development facility at our Estero farm in Southwest Florida. At this center, a team of Ph.D. scientists is tasked with creating the Holy Grail tomato that has high flavor and nutrients, as well as an attractive red color and durable shelf life. And along the way to finding the Grail, we have developed a variety of high-flavor proprietary breeds like the Vintage Ripe, an heirloom-type tomato that consumers say tastes better than the tomatoes they grow in their summer gardens. We’re pretty proud of that.
How is Lipman able to consistently deliver summer-time flavor year-round?
Our research team puts the flavor into the fruit – but then it’s up to our farmers to grow it. With locations across the United States and Mexico, Lipman’s farms are positioned to leverage optimal weather conditions throughout the year. For example, when it’s cold in South Carolina, we’ll grow in Florida. And when Florida’s temperatures reach the 100s, we move operations north. This kind of agility is feasible because we’re vertically integrated – meaning we control all aspects of our operation, from seed to delivery.
Through our network of farms and packing houses, we’re able to deliver produce to 75% of the United States. At Lipman, we say we’re refreshingly dependable, which to us, means that we’ll deliver fresh produce 365 days per year to meet our customers’ needs. In fact, we encourage customers to visit our farms and facilities through our Access to the Acre program, so they can witness the process from field to fork.
You mentioned Access to the Acre above. How does that program add value for customers?
At Lipman, we’re proud of our farms. The Access to the Acre program gives customers an opportunity to visit our facilities so we can share what we do every step of the way – from growing, packing to shipping. Because we strive to be partners with our customers, rather than just a vendor; our goal is to be transparent in our operations. In fact, though customers can visit us anywhere we operate, we have one location specifically suited for this purpose: our Estero vegetable garden. At this farm, which is also home to our research and development facility, guests can tour the fields, see our produce and learn more about the tomatoes and the eastern vegetables we grow.
In addition to customers – your B2B market – I also saw that you’re reaching out to consumers as well.
Yes! That’s true. We launched our consumer outreach efforts in 2012 and have been steadily ramping up since then. We developed www.LipmanKitchen.com to share tips and information on storing and cooking tomatoes. We have farmers available to answer emailed questions and the site is continually updated with exclusive tomato recipes from the nation’s top food bloggers. We’ve also made an effort to connect via social media channels. Lipman now has Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube pages – all geared toward educating people about the benefits of eating fresh tomatoes (and other vegetables). In addition to this type of outreach, we’re very active in the communities where we do business. Each year, Lipman donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to nonprofits because we want to support the communities that support us. That said, we’re looking forward to the future, and to continue creating high-flavor tomatoes that consumers demand!