Focus on high-end tomatoes results in a solid relationship

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Italian Dutch collaboration in high-end tomatoes

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Focus on high-end tomatoes results in a solid relationship

Interview with Marco Schembari, Sales and Marketing Director - Isolagrande Srl in Vittoria, Sicily

What is Isolagrande’s main area of activity and speciality?

Isolagrande is a vegetable production company that focuses on high-end tomatoes. We grow, select, pack and sell fresh produce. Our total production area is 65 ha. 45 ha of our own property. The other 20 ha are at selected growers who cultivate according to our specifications under the guidance of one of our technicians. At 15 hectare we use advanced technology in Dutch style greenhouses, with computerised air conditioning systems that control all production factors (temperature, humidity, fertilisers, etc.).

What is Isolagrande’s position in the (international) market?

We are in an extremely competitive market. We stand out from the competition because of what we do. We do not offer vegetables ranging from tomatoes to lettuces. Our business specialises in premium products, with a position in high-end tomatoes, because we have seen that this is the winning strategy. If we were to focus on mass-market produce, we would lose. This is because we have competitors that perform better than us. The Dutch focus increasingly on the high-end market. Thanks to a discussion on varietal choice and specialisation (especially Sunstream), we can produce at the highest quality levels. Our strength lies in the skills we have acquired by working on one variety for about 12 years. The Dutch have an advantage thanks to artificial lighting. We rely on natural light, but we manage to compete simply through specialisation and technical improvements. 

How did the collaboration with Enza Zaden start?

We had to find the right variety out of many that had been suggested to us. Enza Zaden identified that Sunstream added real value and they supported our strategy.  When our company’s late founder (Vincenzo Fondacaro, red.) organised together with Enza Zaden a demonstration at their experimental centre in Sicily for the whole international supply chain, our collaboration began. That was in 2005. The first production of Sunstream was started at the request of the English market. Sunstream was already extremely successful in other countries. From then on, we were in constant contact with Enza Zaden’s local sales manager, Carmelo Iacono. We kept on working on Sunstream since and are trialling other varieties at the same time.

What is the added value of this relationship for Isolagrande?

The continuing support for improvement. Let’s take the new virus-resistant varieties derived from Sunstream, for example. Enza Zaden often invites us to visit their greenhouses in Santa Croce where they perform varietal selection: a reason for constant updates. The local manager’s support is also important. Carmelo is always present from a strategic point of view, providing us with commercial information and supporting our company. I think that in this respect Enza Zaden is better than other seed companies, and we are very happy with the relationship.

What type of development have you taken on together?

Basically, the varietal improvement of Sunstream and testing new varieties. We recently tried new cherry tomato varieties, such as 410, with satisfactory results. Our specialisations are cherry and mini-plum tomatoes, but we are now expanding a little into loose mini-plums. And we have started working on the Marmande line, always with premium varieties. Regarding cuore di bue (oxheart) tomatoes, Grifone is a variety that performs really well. This is where Enza Zaden continues to give us a helping hand.

What has changed over the years and what does your future together look like?

Our relationship is solid. We know what we require from each other and we are certain of Enza Zaden’s ongoing presence and valuable support. I think that in the future we must together identify a few specific varieties to focus on. With such a wide range, devoting time, energy and money on cultivars that will not be sufficiently trialled is often a waste.

We must rely on our true strength. We have a solid presence in the stores that sell our brand. We offer certain varieties with a specific taste. This enables us to reach the end consumer directly. When distributors offer another product with a different flavour, it is the consumer who responds and asks to have our traditional product back. So, we will certainly be going forward together, along with the well-known, tried and tested road that is providing us with great success. This is the result of the taste, texture and aroma of our produce and the constant innovation that Enza Zaden brings to our tradition.