(June 20) FRESNO, Calif. — The California Tomato Commission has begun a pilot Hispanic promotion program in Los Angeles to take sales of tomatoes — already strong among Hispanics — to new heights.

The program follows a telephone survey of Hispanic consumers and interviews with 25 retailers with a customer base of more than 50% Hispanics. The study found that tomatoes are a regular component of a typical Latino family’s diet.

It also found that 97% of Hispanics purchase tomatoes every time they go to the store. "It is our challenge to get someone eating so many tomatoes to eat more," said Carolyn Hughes, market development director for the California Tomato Commission.

Los Angeles was chosen for the pilot retail tomato program because it has the second-largest Hispanic population in the world behind Mexico City, Hughes said.

A key element of the program is providing multiple tomato choices in Los Angeles supermarkets. The program also includes point of sale messages, recipes and materials including images of the Tito tomato character, which is used by the California Tomato Commission in Hispanic markets.

Hughes noted that Hispanic consumers like both round and roma tomatoes, as long as they are firm and meaty. Firm and meaty tomatoes are better for salsas, she said.

Only 4% of Hispanics surveyed preferred greenhouse tomatoes, Hughes said. The likely reason is they tend to be less firm and contain more water than field-grown tomatoes.

The survey also looked into size and color preferences in tomatoes. It found that Hispanic consumers in the Los Angeles area like tomatoes that are a medium red or light red color and medium-sized.

The survey found that besides making salsas, Hispanics use tomatoes regularly in preparing meals. It determined that 70% of Hispanics consume tomatoes 3.6 times a week.

And that seems to be the case all year long, Hughes said. She said research data indicated that seasons had little impact on consumption of tomatoes by Hispanics.