A tomato variety developed by the University of Florida that has enjoyed regional success in Texas, has gotten the attention of Publix, the largest volume supermarket chain in the U.S.
With an arrangement to carry the fresh market vine-ripened tomato in all 1,036 stores, Tasti-Lee is set to make its national debut.
Jay Scott, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences scientist who developed Tasti-Lee, and more than 30 other tomato varieties and breeding lines in his career, says he’s confident consumers will find this tomato with deep-red flesh and sweet balanced flavor irresistible.
“Based on seven experienced sensory panels, a consumer panel and numerous samplings from field trials, the flavor is superior to most commercially available varieties,” says Scott, who named the variety after its flavor trait and his mother-in-law, Lee, who loved tomatoes. “And, with higher lycopene than most varieties, consumers can feel good about purchasing Tasti-Lee.”
Tasti-Lee seed is marketed and sold exclusively by Bejo Seeds Inc, a Dutch-based company with U.S. headquarters at Oceana, Calif. In order to purchase seed for commercial production, growers must first sign an agreement to adhere to production, harvesting guidelines, including picking the tomato vine ripe. Greg Stiers, product manager for Tasti-Lee, says the requirements are to insure fruit quality and consistency.
“The variety is so unique we want to protect the brand,” he says. “We want consumers to enjoy the best-tasting tomato possible, so we only work with selected growers. Last season, Florida growers harvested 80 acres of Tasti-Lees, and we expect that number to increase this season.”
Miguel Martinez, farm manager of Martinez Farms at Ruskin, has been growing Tasti-Lee for five years. He says partnering with the seed company has been a good experience and that each year his acreage of Tasti-Lee has increased.
“At first, we grew them on the side,” Martinez says. “The second year, we planted them for our U-Pick operation and noticed everyone was drawn to that variety. They would pick the vines bare. This brought attention to the potential of Tasti-Lees.”
Martinez says his farm currently has 60 acres of the variety in the ground and more plantings could be in the future. “Publix has been increasing orders for Tasti-Lee, so we are increasing our acreage. I feel very confident about this variety.”