The fresh produce rainbow has long displayed eye-catching colors. It has been only recently, however, that fruit and vegetable growers have developed commodities with nontraditional hues.

There are blue apriums, bright red corn, purple artichokes and multiple colors of carrots and cauliflower. Not to be outdone, the tomato category now finds its venerable reds sharing shelf space with yellow, orange and even brown relatives.

The 'curious' Rosso Bruno

“It’s a really curious-looking tomato, and sometimes curiosity is a great thing,” Monique McLaws, marketing manager for Ladera Ranch, Calif.-based Dulcinea Farms LLC, said of the company’s Rosso Bruno brown tomato. 

The decision to market the brown-skin, brown-flesh variety was not based on the fruit’s color. 

“What was most intriguing about this tomato was the flavor attributes,” McLaws said. “The Rosso Bruno consistently provides the balance between the sweetness and the acidity that really bring out the tomato flavor you remember from home grown.”

Now in the third year of marketing Rosso Brunos, sales continue to increase and Dulcinea Farms remains committed to the variety, McLaws said. It also is committed to the challenge of educating the public about the commodity’s unusual color.

“The consumer acceptance is there, once shoppers understand the variety,” she said. “And once consumers try it, they love it.”

Not all nonred tomatoes have been sales successes. Oceanside Produce Inc., Oceanside, Calif., was convinced it had a winner a few years ago when it began growing and marketing a yellow tomato, said Bill Wilber, president and director of marketing.

“We had about 7 acres, and it was great,” he said. “The next year we went to 30 acres and destroyed the market.”

Oceanside Produce is no longer marketing the yellow variety.

A few yellows at DiMare Newman

The DiMare Newman, Newman, Calif., continues to market a limited supply of low-acid yellow tomatoes primarily to retail, said Jeff Dolan, field operations manager.

“They don’t have the same flavor characteristics as the reds. They have their own unique flavor,” he said, “and it’s a wonderful color complement to a salad or other uses.”

A cause for concern at DiMare Newman, Dolan said, is that grower-shippers are developing more and more varieties of tomatoes, but the category’s overall volume is not increasing.

“The yellow tomato deal is a good market but a limited market,” he said.

The disappearance of nonred tomatoes from Oceanside’s inventory does not mean the company has abandoned any thought of marketing different colors of tomatoes, Wilber said. But any commodity must have the potential for profit.

“We still grow about 100 different varieties every year in different test plots,” he said. “Retail likes to have them (the nonred tomatoes), but they’re not going to move tremendous numbers.”

Giving them a look

San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce is open to the idea of growing nonred tomatoes on its Baja California acreage, said Mark Munger, vice president of marketing.

“We’re looking at them,” he said, “but they must taste good no matter how pretty they are.”

Munger said he would not be surprised to see even more members of the tomato category in the near future.

“There are some really great tasting varieties out there that come in lots of different shapes, colors and sizes that the U.S. consumer is not used to,” he said.

A major advantage for Dulcinea’s brown tomato is its year-round availability. The Rosso Bruno is grown in a Southern California hothouse, McLaws said, and the company plans to expand distribution.

“The initial launch was regionalized on the West Coast,” she said.

Now that the variety is proving itself, Dulcinea plans to expand to specific retailers, but it will still be a controlled distribution to make certain supply can meet the demand, McLaws said.

That Dulcinea does not market any red tomato varieties is by design.

“The Russo Bruno offers interesting merchandising flexibility on the tomato shelf where there’s a sea of red,” McLaws said.

The brown tomato may soon have company in the Dulcinea stable, however. The company is evaluating specialty varieties of tomatoes for the characteristics and attributes consumers demand, McLaws said.

The Russo Bruno also may be making appearances in restaurants in the future. Dulcinea is evaluating whether it should establish a foodservice program that would include the brown tomatoes and other commodities, McLaws said.