Assa Ender, Manager of special tomato products, believes it is important to distinguish between a healthy snack and a normal tomato: “a snack has to be easy to eat, pleasing to the eye and tasty. This means that it has to be small enough to be eaten in one mouthful. The skin has to be thin and crisp so that consumers have the feeling of snacking and, above all, they must relish the flavour when eating.
On the basis of these assumptions Zeraim Gedera is developing cherry tomatoes and mini plum tomatoes that are full of flavour, have very thin and crispy skin and are also highly resistant to a large number of diseases thus allowing growers to reduce the use of chemical products.
Assa believes that pear tomatoes could also be interesting for the snack business. He adds: “Zeraim Gedera has innovations such as the tear drop and the pear variety which have all the right characteristics to make a good snack”.
Flavour and aroma, the main issues
Compared to other factors such as developing different colours, Shai Leviatov, Director of Research & Development, explains “market share for non-red tomatoes is very small; this is why we prefer to focus our efforts on developing improved flavour and obtaining more attractive red tomatoes for our clients.
During the course of our research into manipulating the flavour of tomatoes we have come to realise that a good tomato is not simply one that has high sugar content but that there are, in fact, many other factors necessary to create “the good old tomatoes of the past”. Our team, together with colleagues from Syngenta, are working in biochemical and genetic research to achieve a better understanding of the factors involved in tomato aroma and also to develop new tomato varieties that bring summer aromas to the table”.
As far as the fresh-cut business is concerned, Gerry Kellman and Zevick Levy confirm that until now the company has not opened any new projects focussed exclusively on this segment, “however we are aware of the important developments here and, as some of our more recent varieties are highly suited to this sector, we are putting a lot of emphasis on developing them as broadly as we can. The most important products here are watermelon (large and tasty with firm flesh and high levels of lycopene), sweet peppers, seedless cucumbers and tomatoes with firm, clean flesh.
The R&D Director affirms that research at Zeraim Gedera has always been focussed on supporting the needs of the whole chain, from growers to retailers, as well as looking for the best solutions for all. This commitment is also evident in their breeding programmes which are run for different markets, both for the big standard market served by the greenhouses in Turkey to the more select, special flavour tomatoes of the vine varieties for growers in Spain and Italy. “Just like any seed company, Zeraim cannot ignore big market segments, however we do recognise the importance of innovation. We are firm believers in the idea that sometimes the latest discovery of today can become the commodity of tomorrow, and this is why we invest a high percentage of our breeding business into searching for high quality products”.
As far as the various blights threatening crops are concerned, Zeraim believe that genetic resistance is the best response to disease and this is why they, together with Syngenta, are devoting a great deal of time and human and financial resources to remain at the cutting edge of research.