Sunday, March 17, 2013

Tesoro Q&A

What is a Tesoro Tomato?

Tesoro is a hybrid variety tomato by the name of Intense that was developed by Nunhems Vegetable Seeds in Italy. It has in its genetics both conventional Roma Tomatoes and Italian paste tomatoes and has produced the unique characteristic of the cooking qualities of a paste tomato and the eating qualities of a salad tomato. It can be identified by what has been refried to as "all meat", "full flesh" and "no gel".

Is Tesoro a GMO? 

No. The Intense variety was naturally developed over many years of crossing different parent lines until the desired characteristics have been achieved (or stumbled upon!).

Where did the name Tesoro come from?

The marketing folks at The Produce Exchange wanted to come up with a name that was more warm and fuzzy to go to market in North America. We love the name Tesoro because it means Treasure in both Italian and Spanish and very accurately describes our experience of the Intense Tomato! In the rest of the world the tomatoes are being marketed by their variety name: Intense.

What is so special about Tesoro?

Full flesh/no gel tomatoes all over the world are used for canning and processing. The Italian variety San Marzano is revered in Italy as the finest tomato for sauces, especially when they are grown in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius, near Naples. San Marzano's canned from Italy have been popularized in the U.S. In recent years not only for their great flavor in making sauce, and also for their consistency year round. Before Tesoro, while their might be the occasional summertime tomato that produces a wonderful result while cooking, the inconstancy has driven us towards canned tomatoes to predictably make a good sauce. Tesoro changes all that. Canned tomatoes can never give you the taste of fresh tomatoes. Tesoro has shown that it produces a delightful tomato sauce with fresh tomato flavor 365 days a year. And it does so much more than canned tomatoes: Roasted Tesoro's are to live for! Tesoro's are one of the only tomatoes that can be grilled and stay in one solid piece without disintegrating between the grate. It will give you grill lines like you would get with a peach or even a steak. And there is a bonus: The skin easily releases and can be pulled off the tomato with your tongs or even your fingers after they have cooled. Say goodbye to soggy sandwhiches! If you use Tesoro slices in your sandwich the night before, the bread is never soggy the next day when you have your lunch. You know how when you slice a regular tomato and toss it in your salad, the gel often times falls out and your bite of tomato is only the skin? Never happens with Tesoro! Every bite is the whole tomato. Tesoro's also have a deeper darker red color that comes from higher levels of Licopene; so their appearance is even more appetizing. I could go on and on. One more thing: when you leave Tesoro's on your kitchen counter for weeks and weeks, they will begin to shrivel and the area around the stem will begin to sink into the tomato and darken in color. Don't throw them away! Slice the stem end off and make the best sauce ever or slice them in half and put in a 400 degree oven for one hour and roast them and then keep them in your fridge for up to one week to toss in salads, use on sandwiches, make snacks with crackers and cheese or just pop into your mouth for a flavorful and satisfying snack. See for the recipe. After a while, Tesoro's will change the way you use fresh tomatoes!

How are Tesoro's grown?

Tesoro's are grown in Mexico, in some of the best tomato growing regions in the world. We have partnered with family farms that allow us to participate with them in the smallest details of farming to insure the Tesoro's give us the best flavor, quality and yields. Tesoro's are all hot house grown. In the regions south and east of Guadalajara, they are hydroponically grown in plastic houses.  In the heart of winter we also grow on the west coast, outside the city of Culiacan. Here, with the ideal winter climate and rich soil, we grow with net cloth houses in the soil. Tesoro's are always grafted with a stronger root stock. The Intense variety is more primitive in terms of its resistance package. This means it is not able to fight off diseases, viruses, funguses and such as well as the more evolved commercial varieties. So to help give the Intense (Tesoro) the plant vigor it needs to stay strong and healthy they are grafted with a strong root stock. Just like in fruit tree's and vines, we grow two plants, one being Intense and the other being a variety that  has has strong resistances. When the two plants are only a few inches tall, we cut them both and place the Intense on top of the other variety and clip them together. Within a short amount of time they grow together to form one plant. 

We are now just testing a new variety of Intense that has been adapted in the Netherlands to grow in a high tech environment; that is to say temperature controlled glass houses grown hydroponically. We have tests underway in several areas of the United Staes and Canada. We may very well have commercial production from these farms in two to three years. While this is significantly more expensive farming, some of the costs will be offset by less transpiration costs. 

Are tomatoes grown in Mexico safe?

First, who am I to answer such a large question? I am not with the FDA. I am not a scientist. Let me share with you my credentials and my bias. I was literally born and raised on a tomato farm in San Jose, California in 1952. Safe is a relative term defined by time and location. In the 50's I remember my Dad calling my Mom and telling her to close all the windows of the house because they were about to spray. Meaning a crop duster airplane was about to fly right over the top of our house and the tomato fields on either side spraying DDT. People use to stop their cars on McLaughlin Avenue and get out to watch the crop duster swooping down over the fields with the DDT billowing out of the back of the plane. We just didn't know back then. When I shop for fresh produce at the market or at the local Danville Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings, my priorities are first about organic and second about freshness. That is to say I look for organic first, and if something does not look fresh I will try to pick an alternative to my first choice and if that does not work I will look to conventional. I am someone who will drive for 40 minutes to Berkeley Bowl Market in Berkeley because of their extraordinary selection of organic produce that is most always so fresh and always very reasonably priced. My point being I am someone who pays attention to the smallest details when it comes to what I put in my body. I have been in the industry for nearly all of my 60 years on the planet. I am a self declared foodie and for me its all about the ingredients. Does this make me an expert? I am not a scientist and I make most decisions trusting my gut. I have most likely been on significantly more farms all over the world than any scientist. I have been visiting farms in Mexico for nearly 40 years. I have seen just about everything you can imagine. We have team mates at the Produce Exchange that are on our farms nearly every day. 

OK, I know you forgot the question, so here it goes: Are tomatoes grown in Mexico safe? I will give you a qualified YES! Ninety-plus percent of the tomatoes that cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. are produced by growers whose entire operations have been set up to export tomatoes and to meet all safety, environmental and social standards to accomplish that end. These operations are some of the most sophisticated in the world; yes including the U.S. More so, about half of the production comes from protected environment farming, meaning some kind of hot house or green house structure. What most people don't realize about farming in protected environment is that you can not use pesticides without killing the bees. With no bees, the tomatoes don't get pollinated and there are no more tomatoes. What this means in terms of food safety is that for most of the production cycle a grower will do everything he can to not use pesticides. Bee's are expensive and pesticides throw off the entire balance of the hot house or greenhouse. During the tail end of the season when insect pressure and environmental conditions are at maximum impact, a grower may elect to use pesticides in the last six weeks of production, to save his crop from an early demise. In doing so they will most certainly choose U.S. approved pesticides and wait the instructed amount of time before harvest to ensure residue levels are below approved tolerance levels. Our tomatoes, as well as every other U.S. Importer of tomatoes are randomly checked by the FDA. Get caught once and those tomatoes must be disposed (or sent back to Mexico) and you are on high alert. Meaning you will be checked regularly until you have a clean record for a period of time. Get caught twice and the problems really begin. Frankly, social responsibility aside, for no other reason than greed (read desire for profitability), it is not worth it to get caught with pesticides on your tomatoes. 

So, when it comes to protected environment crops, pesticides are rarely used, particularly for the first three quarters of production. And in the case of all tomatoes, most everything that crosses the border into the US are grown by extremely sophisticated operations that are focused on meeting U.S. Standards. The exception to the rule: During times of short supply and very high market prices, field grown tomatoes that were grown for Mexican markets may make their way to the border to capture a higher price. These too are checked for residue, albiet at a higher level than the rest. These tomatoes rarely make it into main stream supply. U.S. Retailers and Food Service company's will only buy from fully accredited companies that meet their rigid safety standards and will not buy from these "strangers". They simply cannot tolerate the risk and the potential risk on their reputation.

I eat Mexican tomatoes every single week for most of the year. While I am very particular about which ones I select, I eat them because I feel they are delicious and safe. Delicious comes from my experience and safe comes from my gut sense about it populated by a whole lot of experience and exposure to the industry. (By the way, most of the time I select Tesoro). BTW, Tesoro's are 100% hot house grown!

Are there Organic Tesoro's?

The short answer is not yet. Tesoro's are very expensive to grow. This is mostly due to their production being about 30% less than their conventional cousins. It is also a very sensitive plant to grow. Most commercial varieties can sail smoothly through periods of rain or cold or even a number of overcast days. Tesoro, on the other hand, takes a lot of attention to help the crop navigate its way through the inclement weather. So Tesoro produces less and is more expensive to grow. Honestly when we decided to commercialize this crop back in 2010, all the business indicators suggested that we abandon the project. We moved forward because we loved the tomato and we were not willing to give up. I know its hard to believe that anyone would do that in the current business environment – and we did! 

OK – back to organics: We have yet to figure out how to grow them organically without raising the cost significantly. Our hot house grown Tesoro's cost of farming and distribution needs to fetch a retail in the $2.99 - $3.99 range in most cases.(for a 22oz bag). When you see Tesoro's sold for less than that we are loosing money with every bag sold in an effort to get people to try them and come back for more! You might say we are investing in building a solid foundation of sales. The most important thing in fresh produce is that an item has what is called "velocity". Meaning the sales are swift enough that the Produce Manager can re order two to three times per week and keep them fresh. It takes a lot of people to buy them often to accomplish that. What does this have to do with growing organically? Our objective is to offer Tesoro's organically and still be able to sell them for $3.99 at retail. We feel we could live with $4.99 retail for an introduction until we learned how to bring costs down. Unfortunately at this point in time our projections suggest Organic Tesoro's would have to sell for at least $5.99 and we feel that is too expensive to give the item the velocity necessary to keep it fresh. That is a deal breaker for us.  We are continuing to work towards our first trial of organic Tesoro's and frankly had intended to have one in place by now. It did not work out and stay tuned!

Are we there yet?

I hope this has been helpful in terms of what Tesoro is all about and what us folks at The Produce Exchange are up to. I feel very passionate about Tesoro - after all this is a love story!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

What happened to January?

As I sit at my kitchen table this morning enjoying the last of my cappuccino, I am reminded of my blog. And then the flash comes that I missed the entire month of January. And then the words of our marketing guy, Doug Wyrick comes ringing through my caffeine enhanced skull: "consistency with a blog is everything, you have to write every week and don't forget to include pictures". Geeez . . . My bad.

I am pleased to report that the number of retailers and food service companies coming on board are increasing every week. This means that you are more likely to be able to buy Tesoros in your neighborhood market and find them used in the preparation of your favorite dish at your favorite restaurant with each passing week. Up until now, my niece Annie has only been able to make her favorite pasta sauce with Tesoro's when she packs a few bags in her luggage after a family visit in California. Now, I am excited to report she can go to her local A&P Supermarket and get them right in NYC! Yay!

Recently we presented a national restaurant chain diced Tesoro's. These are folks who really care about quality and flavor (yes, a national fast food chain!) and are willing to pay a premium to serve better food. I can' believe I actually just wrote that and yes its true! We have recently completed the third round of tastings with the top echelon of decision makers (including the CEO himself) and Tesoro was identified as the best tasting tomato. While this is no surprise to me, sometimes the positive response back is tempered with concerns about price, or relationships with existing suppliers or sometimes just concern about putting all your eggs in one basket. Since we are the only ones with Tesoro in North America, this is a legitimate concern.

Having said that, we have been in business for 33 years and have specialized in tomatoes for 33 years. We spent 5 years understanding and learning the grow with the help of the seed company- Nunhems Vegetable Seeds - before we ever launched Tesoro commercially. One of our values is to do what we say we will do, and we take that quite seriously. It's funny how a simple formula like that can become a differentiater in business.

Of course it helps that our grower partners are top notch and everything we do together is infused with a sense of family pride. Tesoros are hot house grown which also ads a demention of predictability and consistency in production. (More so than I have accomplished with publishing this blog). This also contributes to the year round consistency with flavor. I say "contributes" because the entire subject of making tomatoes taste good in a commercial setting in stores across the country is complex and lengthy. I promise to talk more about that in future blogs.

OK, now the picture part! This is what our kitchen counter looks like on a typical Sunday morning- or any morning for that matter. And yes, that is a box of tomatoes next to my fireplace in the kitchen I am using in recipes to assess their flavor and functionality.

I love these tomatoes!

Marty Mazzanti
Love Story

Location:Home in Danville

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Home for the holidays

Here is my take on Christmas Spirit (aka Holiday Spirit): It is a heart opening that in some (maybe many) cases is initiated by just thinking of others. In some cases we are on the receiving end and we feel seen and appreciated and in other cases we are on the giving end and find ourselves thinking about the other more than usual in imagining what they would like as a gift. We are wishing others merry or happy something or other. Often times several times in a day. It's a time where we are thanked or are thanking others for participating in our lives. Some of us attend celebratory gatherings. Places we go are decorated. Enough of humanity (at least in the North American culture that I know) get caught up in extended and pervasive expressions of the heart that our cultural climate takes a perceptible shift. The barriers to feeling our connection with others is somehow temporarily lifted by all this well wishing and gifting, and we become more present with each other. Love is in the air.

This last year I have given around 50 pitches to retailers and food service companies to buy Tesoro tomatoes. I find the only way I can point towards the complexities of how different and unique this new tomato is, is to tell its story of discovery and development. By the time I am done, they recognize it as the love story it truly is: Boy meets tomato; boy falls in love with tomato; boy shares tomato with the world. If a brand is really a promise, then Tesoro could not have been more aptly named: Treasure. It's even a buried or hidden treasure. It comes in a package that looks like a regular roma tomato. When you first slice into it and there is no gel or juice, and more over you notice it is all meat is when it first gets our interest. When it leaves the cutting board and makes its way into a sauté pan, the oven, a grill or a big pot on the stove is when it begins to reveal its secrets. And when we take that first taste: Mama Mia! Tesoro!

Happy Holiday loving one and all!

Marty Mazzanti
Love Story

Location:Danville, CA

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The only thing I like better than sharing Tesoro tomatoes is eating them. My favorite way is sooooooo simple. I slice them in half and lay them out in neat even rows on a baking sheet. Sprinkle Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and a little diced fresh thyme. Dried thyme works almost as good. I place the tray in a 275 degree oven for two and a half hours (this can be done in one hour at 375). I take them out and serve them as a side that night (or cut in half again and stir into my risotto last minute or toss into my salad). The rest go in an air tight container (can I say Tupperware?) and into the fridge. Then I have this treasure waiting for my my next craving. On some toast all by itself or with some fresh Italian Buffalo Mozzarella (I like the big tub from Campania that Costco sells). A good fresh Chèvre is also wonderful. I use them in sandwiches, soups and my favorite side is with grilled beef, especially the Prime Filet Mignon that I also get at Costco.

OK, let me clear something up here. I have mentioned Costco twice now. One would never guess I believe and practice shopping with local small business owners, even when it costs more. When I try and imagine a landscape without them I see this horrifying scene from some futuristic movie that depicts life 50 years from now with only mass corporate merchants. I feel like they both have their place and that we vote for our future with the dollars we spend. I also want to use my dollars to vote for excellence. That is why I shop at Costco. My experience is they often times have selected for me both extraordinary value and quality. I don't do cheap. I do quality. And exceptional quality delights me. I get delighted a lot at Costco. I also love the stories I hear about how they treat their people and I have had the pleasure of talking with a few of their buyers. While we do not sell Costco a lot, I can tell you they are top notch business people that truly care about sourcing the best fresh produce at a price that is fair to their members and fair to their farmers. They have not bought Tesoro's yet, and some of the reason is they are loyal to their current farmers. Loyal customers are hard to get in with and once you do they stay with you for a long time. As long as their members vote for you with their dollars.

Speaking of voting with your dollars - Everyday you go to your local Supermarket is Election Day for Tesoro. If they have them, buy them and tell the Produce Manager how wonderful they are. Tell the Checker too. Tell your friends, family, and neighbors. Stop people on the street - oye- I go to far. . . If they don't have them ask for them and tell them how wonderful they are. Keep asking for them until they bring them in!

What I want you to know dear reader, is that we bring you Tesoro's because we believe it is truly unique and special food. Frankly we are looking at every aspect of the business to figure out how to make it profitable for us. So far with every bag we ship money - in that we have been growing and selling Tesoro's at a loss. A significant part of our road to success is to build the sales and volume. This happens one bag at a time! Literally.

Buy Tesoro's. Talk about Tesoro's. Cook with Tesoro's. Eat Tesoro's.

Love them and I promise you they will love you back.

Marty Mazzanti
Love Story

Location:Delta Sky Lounge, Minneapolis