VANCOUVER — As tomato varieties and stock keeping units multiply, retailers and consumers can only avoid confusion by knowing their uses in the kitchen, BC Hot House Foods Inc. chairman David Ryall said at the Canadian Produce Marketing Association convention and trade show.

Ryall was one of three grower-shippers who spoke to more than 100 CPMA attendees at an April 3 education session for retail produce managers.

“When you have people over to the greenhouse for tasting, they’re all over the map,” he said. “Some like it a little crunchy, some a little softer, and some like some acid. It’s complex. The more we look at it, it’s starting to be like wine.”

And as with wine, it would be possible to fill long stretches of shelf with tomatoes.

“We’ve got 15 to 25 SKUs sitting there,” Ryall said. “The customer is looking and wondering, ‘What the heck do I buy? Which one is it?’ Let’s hope they can figure out what use it’s for. But even if they figure that out, they might not know which one to take.”

For a pasta sauce, that would be a roma or San Marzano. For a salad, cocktail, cherry or grape tomatoes are better.

“We’ve got to keep the industry informed on which one to use for which recipe they’re wanting,” Ryall said. “Sit down with your supplier and talk about what it is you want. Do you want a beefsteak for a hamburger, or a cherry for a salad?”

Ryall laid out challenges greenhouse tomato production faces from planting and picking to shipping.

“We’ve got to get it to the shelf within three or four days,” he said. “And then we pray the consumer doesn’t put it in the fridge. If you put a tomato in the fridge, you can be compromising the texture. It could go mushy on you and the flavors will absolutely disappear, even if you bring them back to room temperature.”

“A lot of things have to go right,” he said.

BC Hot House chairman untangles tomatoesLabor makes smaller tomatoes more expensive than beefsteaks or romas.

“The same input and we’re getting a third of the production,” Ryall said.

At the session Les Mallard, Canada zone manager for Chiquita Brands International, fielded questions on bananas, including cold chain maintenance. Mike Antle, chief operations officer and executive vice president for Tanimura & Antle, discussed sustainability and wasted produce. Jay Shirodker, Loblaws senior director of quality assurance for meat, seafood, multicultural and produce, outlined the Canadian retailer’s food safety policies.