MONTREAL — Quebec’s organic spotlight is focused on a cluster of small greenhouse tomatoes named Mini Pachino, Carpaccio, Grapollo and Apéro.
The European varieties, new to Canada, are the first fruits of a new 1.7-hectare greenhouse in St. Sophie, north of Montreal, which plans to market under the Biologico label, certified by Quebec Vrai (Real Quebec).
“For us, organic is the future,” said Andre Michaud, a former specialty produce retailer now developing markets for Les Serres Sagami. The company, bought 15 years ago by financier Stephane Roy, sells conventional tomatoes in the northeastern U.S. under its Taste of the North brand.
Sagami also owns a second greenhouse complex in Chicoutimi, which Michaud said should be converted to organic within a year. It’s part of Roy’s three-year, $6 million plan to grow 5 hectares of organic tomatoes in Quebec greenhouses.
“Everything’s clean and computerized,” Michaud said.
“We grow in organic soil with organic fertilizers, we heat with biomass from wood chips harvested less than three miles away, we use beneficial insects for pest control and we recycle our waste water.”
St. Sophie harvested its first organic crop May 15, and Michaud is negotiating with small and large Quebec chain stores to carry the new varieties.
“The fact that our tomatoes are organic is not our number one selling point,” he said.
“We tell people to buy our tomatoes because it’s a product of exceptional quality, it’s tasty and it’s locally grown. And, by the way, it’s organic.”
He hopes to keep the price at about no higher than 30% above conventional, to maximize consumer access to a healthy organic product.
Sagami sends its premium tomatoes to market packaged in biodegradable barquettes made by Cascades in Quebec to help extend their shelf life. But if supermarkets put tomatoes in the fridge, Michaud said, their flavor and texture are ruined within an hour.
His favorite of the new varieties so far is the mini pacchino, a san marzano variety that’s firm and sweet and great for cooking.
“I knew it was going to be a good product, but it’s better than I thought,” he said.