By Samantha Winters

The Florida Tomato Culinary Art Tour has been visiting major food retailers this fall with a tomato art exhibit and mini tomato festival showcasing the beauty, taste and nutritional benefits of Florida field-grown tomatoes.

The tour, which kicked off Nov. 14 in Portland, Maine, will conclude in Miami on Dec. 19. It has allowed Florida’s tomato growers to directly reach and get involved with consumers in key markets via sampling, exhibitions and local publicity. It also offers the industry the opportunity to discuss the measures Florida tomato growers have instituted to ensure the safety of Florida field-grown tomatoes, including new packing and sanitation practices.

Tour stops included the Portland, Maine; Boston; Albany, N.Y.; Philadelphia; Baltimore; Richmond, Va.; Raleigh, N.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; Greenville, N.C.; Atlanta; Jacksonville; Orlando; Tampa; and Miami markets. To build excitement for the tour, the Florida Tomato Committee, Maitland, recently invited consumers in these 15 markets to create tomato artwork and enter it on the Tour Web site, Judges chose 15 $1,000 winners, and this winning artwork has been traveling from city to city as part of the tour exhibit.

The response of retailers as well as shoppers to the tour has been overwhelming. Grace Johnston, one of the 15 winning artists, appeared at the Ukrop’s Richmond event location Nov. 28 with the dress she designed that earned her a $1,000 prize. The center of her tomato dress features a Florida Tomatoes banner similar to the tomato label sticker designed by the Florida Tomato Committee that is used by many of the committee’s shippers.

Further, the Ukrop’s deli manager even featured two Florida tomato recipes from the committee’s recipe booklet—Florida Tomato Crostini and Florida Tomatoes Stuffed with Couscous—in his chef’s case during the event. The store manager told the committee he was extremely pleased with the enthusiasm and excitement that was generated by the event. Store managers are interested in providing shoppers with a great experience and in his words, “It was a very successful event with good interaction with the shoppers. The event was great because it created some excitement from the typical ho-hum shopping experience.”

At each stop, local chefs have been providing recipe samples using fresh Florida tomatoes and free Florida tomato recipe booklets. Tomato shopping bags have been handed out. More than 5 million visitors are expected along the tour.

In addition to the 15-market tour stops at retailers, the committee also aired commercial radio spots in these regions targeting 12 million people. The committee also advertised in Parade magazine reaching more than 29 million readers.