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- “We’re not trying to compete with the huge companies growing gassed green tomatoes,” he says. “We grow vine ripes. That’s what sets us apart from the others, and this market is growing very fast.”
His Florida production alone should total about 360 acres. He decided to move his south Florida production from Homestead to the western fringe of West Palm Beach, where soils are better for growing tomatoes, he says.
Once again, he’ll have fields in the Wimauma area and will follow last season’s growing pattern northward. In 2013, he will add Virginia’s Eastern Shore to the mix, where it is simple to ship tomatoes to New York City.
Torres also is part of a small group of growers and distributors who teamed on the new “Handy Candy” grape tomato that’s packaged in four-ounce resealable cups, making it easy for consumers to snack on them. Handy Candy LLC is a spin-off of Flavor-Pic Tomato Co., based in Birmingham, Ala.
“I want to give consumers what they want,” he says. “Tastes are changing and growers have to change, too. People say they want healthy snacks, so let’s give them some. Tomatoes are healthy — let’s make it easy for them to eat tomatoes.”
As consumers get ever more savvy about what they eat, success in the tomato business will focus on taste, Torres says.
“If you’re a consumer — and everybody is — I want to sell you something you like. We’ve got to sell taste. That’s why I like Tasti-Lees and why I like Ruby Ripes. The Ruby Ripes are bigger than cherry tomatoes, have good Brix, and they’re sweet. Once consumers taste them, they’ll be back for more.”
He began working in Florida’s tomatoes fields at age nine, joining his father, Leo Torres, and his brothers, picking the fruit as it began to color and ripen. His father bought tomatoes from the farmers, then marketed them at the Tampa farmers market or to roadside stands.
The family lived at Myakka City, east of Sarasota in Manatee County.
“My father was always self-employed,” Torres says. “This is what we did for a living. There were four of us. We were great pickers, great at harvesting tomatoes. We were the beginning of what’s called ‘pin-hookers,’ who did this kind of work. I still don’t know why we were called that — I should try to figure that out sometime.”