(UPDATED COVERAGE, Jan. 21) Bakersfield, Calif.-based Sun World International LLC returns to the fresh tomato industry by joining forces with Santa Sweets Inc., Plant City, Fla., and its signature grape tomatoes.

UPDATED: Sun World, Santa Sweets join to market grape tomatoes

Courtesy Sun World International/Santa Sweets

Despite extensive freeze damage to the grape tomato crop in the Immokalee, Fla., area in early January, Santa Sweets chief operations officer J.M. Procacci said the company will increase production through Mexican imports. 

The two companies are scheduled to begin shipping co-branded grape tomatoes in late January, said David Marguleas, chief marketing officer of Sun World. The tomatoes, organic and conventionally grown, will be packed in 1-pint and 1-quart clamshells, he said.

Procacci said 60% of the company's grape tomato production near Immokalee is lost, but that could climb as high as 75% as damage becomes more apparent. Overall supplies will be affected for up to five weeks, he said Jan. 21.

The first of the grape tomatoes will ship from the Santa Sweets packinghouse in Nogales, Ariz.

The tomatoes will be offered year-round, Marguleas said, and will be available with other Sun World commodities, including bell peppers, citrus, table grapes and stone fruit.

“The partnership with Sun World is designed to expand distribution of our grape tomatoes in the West,” said Rick Feighery, director of sales for Santa Sweets. “We do well in the Northeast and Southeast, but we think we can do better with Sun World’s help in the West.”

It is too early to predict what effect Sun World will have on distribution, he said. Sun World will concentrate only on grape tomatoes and will not be marketing Santa Sweets’ UglyRipe heirloom tomatoes, Feighery said. Sun World last marketed tomatoes in the late 1980s after introducing the divine ripe tomato.

For several years, Sun World has marketed Santa Sweet’s table grapes, Marguleas said.

Sun World does not plan to expand its fruit breeding program into the vegetable arena.

“Santa Sweets and its affiliated companies have a well established breeding program,” Marguleas said. “Sun World will stay with breeding table grapes and other fruit.”

Santa Sweets’ hybrid variety of grape tomato contains high sugar content and is not genetically modified, according to the Santa Sweets Web site.
 
In addition to bell peppers and citrus, Sun World grows and licenses several proprietary fruit varieties such as Superior, Scarlotta and Midnight Beauty table grapes, Black Diamond plums and Honeycot apricots.