(Nov. 20, 3:30 p.m.) PLANT CITY, Fla. — Santa Sweets Inc. is expanding into yellow grape tomatoes and is selling Mexican-grown hydroponic tomatoes.

Santa Sweets, which formerly operated as Ag-Mart Inc., this fall began ramping up volume for national distribution of a yellow grape tomato program it started in smaller volumes last spring.

Santa Sweets sold its Golden Grapes exclusively to the Tampa-based Outback Steakhouses Inc. chain, but is expanding sales to other foodservice companies, retailers and wholesalers, said Michael Lacey, Santa Sweets’ director of sales.

Santa Sweets, which grows and packs the Golden Grapes in 12 1-pint clamshells and 5- and 10-pound foodservice packs, is one of the few grower-shippers packing yellow grape tomatoes, Lacey said.

The yellow tomatoes possess a different flavor profile with a little more acidity than the standard red grape tomatoes, work well with cooking applications and help chefs add something colorful and different to their plates, Lacey said.

Hydroponic partnership

Santa Sweets this fall has also started acting as a sales agent for Mexican hydroponic tomato grower-shipper Bionatur Invernaderos Biológicos de México, SA de CV, Jocotitlán, Mexico.

Beginning in late December, the company plans to sell cartons of 11-pound hydroponic tomatoes on the vine and 15-pound single-layer hydroponic rounds under the Santa Sweets brand throughout the year.

The new venture, Lacey said, will help Santa Sweets experience fewer gaps throughout the year when transferring from one farm or growing region to another and will help the company try to secure year-round sourcing.

Exiting the marketing of round and roma tomatoes and cantaloupe, Santa Sweets, which is owned by Joseph Procacci of Philadelphia, is focusing on the products that made the company successful, Lacey said.

“Our philosophy is that we’re not like most other tomato companies that do rounds, romas and cherries,” Lacey said. “We didn’t want to be in the same realm of the other guys. Mr. Procacci brought the Santa Sweet grape tomato variety to the U.S., which is what started this company. We’re getting back to what built this company, on conventional and organic grapes and UglyRipe tomatoes. We’re concentrating on the products that got us where we are.”

UglyRipe tomatoes

On the company’s trademarked UglyRipe variety, Lacey said sales of the premium tomato have gone well. He said Santa Sweets has stayed true to the way it has grown and picked the heirloom tomatoes.

The hand-packed tomatoes are harvested vine-ripened and aren’t gassed for maturity.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2007 gave Procacci the OK to market the tomatoes outside of Florida.

Santa Sweets widens reach of yellow grape tomatoes
Michael Lacey, director of sales for Santa Sweets Inc., Plant City, Fla., examines some Golden Grapes yellow grape tomatoes the company is releasing. Lacey says the golden yellow color is one of the most sought out colors in the tomato category outside of red tomatoes.