Tomatoes in the spotlight

How much do you really know about the nutritional benefits of tomatoes?

Bellino tomatoes

Australians are increasingly taking an interest in reducing their overall sugar intake and the results are now showing on the supermarket shelves and at the checkouts.

Consumer lifestyle choices

This trend is expected to continue with consumer lifestyle choices being influenced by more informed nutritional, health and wellbeing benefits. The desire for more nutrient rich, lower sugar options is a great reason for consumers to seek out more fresh produce, such as tomatoes.

Concern about the risk of obesity and diabetes, heart health and lifespan, as well as the negative impact of sugar intake, means many consumers now, more than ever are willing to adjust their diets and reduce the amount of sugar they consume.

Kylie McKnight, Marketing Manager of Costa’s Tomato Category explains Changes in consumer expectations have highlighted a shift in purchasing decisions from the traditional drivers of taste and price, towards those based on health and wellbeing, as well as ethics, social conscious, sustainability and transparency.

Costa Group are one of the largest horticultural companies in Australia and operate a 40ha glasshouse for tomato production in Guyra, New South Wales. They are also supporters of ‘Love My Salad’, a global Rijk Zwaan initiative dedicated to sharing knowledge and inspiration about vegetables and salads.

Through its social platform, Love My Salad aims to positively influence and increase behavioural change towards vegetable consumption and promote a healthy eating lifestyle.

The ‘Seed Fund’ is an initiative, established by Rijk Zwaan to facilitate projects with partners. linked to the sales of Rijk Zwaan seeds. Projects must meet a research, innovation or educational outcome and support the goals of Love My Salad by informing, inspiring and positively influencing consumer choices. Ultimately, this leads to a stronger market for products grown from vegetable seeds.

Costa Group’s Australian Tomato Category selected a research project and engaged an external provider, Food & Nutrition Australia to determine and address consumer key health, nutrition and lifestyle concerns by undertaking research outlining the inherent value and nutritional benefits of snack tomatoes.

Co-funded by Costa Group and Rijk Zwaan through Love My Salad, this research project is delivering practical health and wellness messaging in an informative and quantifiable way that is likely to resonate with health conscious consumers. Kylie explains, “We know that health messaging alone is not an adequate choice driver and that we also need to address the underlying experiences people are looking for when making food choices, to create meaningful messaging that creates a behavioural change.”

Tomato options within Australia are extensive and consumers can find themselves overwhelmed with choice. Consuming more tomatoes can contribute to optimal health and wellbeing as tomatoes are naturally low in sugar and following a low sugar diet may be beneficial for long-term health and disease prevention. In an effort to positively influence consumer awareness, the research provides quantitative nutritional data about the benefits of increased tomato consumption.

As one of the initiators of ‘Love My Salad’, Rijk Zwaan’s Australian Managing Director, Steven Roberts explains, “We believe that through this project, we can support our customers in communicating to consumers in a way that generates greater meaning behind consumer decisions to purchase our varieties. In line with Love My Salad’s ambition, we will lead the way in educating and inspiring our direct customers to encourage consumers to enjoy more vegetables by creating positive behavioural change through projects like this.”

Kylie McKnight added “The Seed Fund was instrumental in allowing Costa Group to not only undertake the nutritional testing, but also the analysis around the data to develop health and nutritional related messages and understand the role tomatoes play as a solution to consumer health and nutrition related issues.

Australians are still not eating enough fruit and vegetables. We felt that this ‘mindful’ consumer sentiment, coupled with a general lack of specific nutritional information available within fresh produce, provided an opportunity to create a health and wellbeing platform from which to promote the benefits and value of tomatoes.

As a producer of fresh produce we know essentially that what we grow is heathy, but to be able to talk directly to the health benefits and nutritional content we needed to undertake the research to determine the exact nutritional profile of the tomato varieties.”

Summary of key research findings

Research findings

The research was carried out in two parts. Part 1 comprised of a review of the nutritional profile of various tomato varieties and the development of ‘healthy’ key messages for consumers. Part 2 focussed on tomatoes as a favourable option for snacking.

Key findings of the research by Food & Nutrition Australia highlighted the significant nutritional value of Bellino®, snack tomatoes which are grown by Costa and sold through the ALDI supermarket chain in Australia. The report outlined how tomato consumption can contribute towards meeting daily intake recommendations for key vitamins and minerals, while also being low in sugar and kilojoules.

Food & Nutrition Australia found that ‘Swapping out 2 chocolate chip biscuits for 100g of snacking tomatoes would reduce the intake of added sugar by approximately 1 teaspoon. Over the course of a year, this would equate to 365 fewer teaspoons of added sugar.” This one small behavioural change could reduce the amount of added sugar consumed annually by a staggering amount of almost 1.5kg!

Tomatoes are naturally nutrient rich and one of the key research findings uncovered that one serve of Bellino® tomatoes (100g) is higher in Vitamin C than potatoes, carrots, celery and white onion.

One serve of Bellino® Tomatoes is also higher in Potassium than carrots, cauliflowers, celery, capsicum, white onion, cabbage and zucchini.

The report stated, as part of a varied and balanced diet, tomatoes such as Bellino® snack tomatoes ‘can play a useful role in the diets of young children aged 1-3 years through their contribution to meeting daily requirements for essential nutrients including Potassium, Vitamin A and Vitamin C.’

With its Sustainable Commercial Farming strategy launched in November 2018, Costa aims to produce healthy and nutritious food that is fresh, affordable and environmentally conscious.

Kylie added “The desire to undertake this research also aligned with our health and well-being principal to “Only grow healthy and nutritious fresh produce that is acknowledged as being essential to maintaining a healthy body and mind. We take great pride in the fact nothing artificial is added to our products after harvest and sold fresh as they are.” (Costa Sustainability Report 2018).

This research has benefitted Costa by enabling them to find out more about the natural nutritional benefits of tomatoes and understand their key health benefits. They now also have promotional benefits with the ability to display supported research findings on packaging and throughout marketing materials to educate consumers. “Now that we have the data and analysis, we will work with our retail partners to incorporate the claims on packaging or provide more specific on-pack messaging where general health claims are already made. We hope to see these come to fruition over the next 12 months to spread the health and wellbeing messaging.”

When asked if there was one thing Costa group would like consumers to know about tomatoes, Kylie stated As well as being delicious, tomatoes are a naturally rich source of nutrients and provide a number of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to support everyday good health!”

Given the findings, where possible, it appears wise to include tomatoes as part of a healthy and balanced diet, along with a higher overall intake of vegetables to assist with mind, body and health management. This is also likely to reduce the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

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