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The future of processing tomato is in a European label, not local

07/06/2019 - François-Xavier Branthôme - Lire en français
Tomates del Sur: six-fold growth of processing capacity

 According to Diogo Soares Franco, CEO of Tomates del Sur, Seville has been a great bet for Sugal, a group specialized in tomato processing.
In 2010, the Portuguese tomato specialist Sugal acquired the tomato processing plant of Las Cabezas de San Juan, in Seville, and since then, the Group's processing capacity has grown six-fold. To achieve this, EUR 30 million have been invested in the modernization of the tomato production sector and in the processing plant's facilities, according to Diogo Soares. Tomates del Sur is the name given to the Spanish subsidiary of the Portuguese giant.

Increases in crop production have resulted from the search for quality, for best agricultural techniques and for the best varieties. That is what company leaders say will make the difference and will allow Tomates del Sur to continue growing in a global and very competitive market. To achieve this, Sugal is testing more than 150 varieties each year in several trial fields. The main objective is to produce tomatoes with a good yield, excellent quality and good adaptability to local climatic conditions.

Sugal currently offers a wide range of tomato products, including paste, cubed or crushed tomato, with various concentration levels (from 5° to 40°Brix) and different production processes. In the Las Cabezas-based factory, all the products are packaged and shipped to industrial customers who use concentrates and tomato sauce as an ingredient in their products. More than 85% of the production is exported to over 70 countries worldwide, with Europe being the Portuguese group's main market. To obtain the tomatoes, a total of 2 350 hectares have been contracted from Seville to Jerez de la Frontera, in Cadiz.

“The future of processing tomato depends on a European Designation-of-Origin, not of local origin”
According to Diogo Soares, the creation of a European Designation-of-Origin could help Andalusia's industrial tomato production gain more strength globally: "Sugal's objective is to ensure Andalusia becomes the region of the world with the highest productivity in industrial tomato. This, together with the excellence of the group's tomatoes, will be the key to the future and will allow us to think about new projects that can generate employment and wealth," said Soares.

While acknowledging the value of a strong signal to indicate the origin of the raw materials used in processing, the group that owns the Las Cabezas de San Juan plant has distanced itself from the project of launching a local designation-of-origin label for Lebrija tomato paste, which is supported by other processors in the region. 

Ever since the Portuguese group Sugal, which also owns processing installations in Chile, decided to invest in Andalusia almost ten years ago, the region's processing infrastructure has constantly been modernized and updated. In fact, "in less than a decade, we have almost multiplied by six the processing capacity of that factory, and we process a total of 300 000 tonnes of raw tomato per season," explained Diogo Franco, adding that "Sugal wants to make Andalusia into a major production region, counterbalancing Extremadura, which currently dominates the sector." Extremadura produces 64% of Spain's processing tomatoes, compared to 28% for the region of Andalusia. 

"The Lower Guadalquivir region is traditionally a cultivation area for processing tomatoes, and we believe it has a lot of potential, but it is very important to continue focusing on the sector's competitiveness. An increase in production needs to run parallel with improvements to quality, with research into better agricultural techniques and improved varieties. We are mainly focusing on crop planning, which needs to be perfected. We have also invested into optimizing the period of time between the harvest and delivery to the factory, in order to get a better handle on the freshness, color and natural flavor of the fruits that we are processing. We continue to work alongside growers in the context of a long-term relationship that we constantly want to improve."

Diogo Soares mentioned the difficulties encountered by processors in the Lebrija region, an important cultivation area for processing tomatoes, where operators are trying to get a protected designation-of-origin (PDO) accreditation for their tomato pastes (see our connected articles on this topic). He also explained that he does not think that "a 'Lebrija tomato' designation-of-origin is the best way of guaranteeing the future of this crop in that region. We do have premium quality, indeed, but other regions in the world offer a similar quality, and I do not think that consumers all over the world are going to value this kind of local designation. Another approach would be to set up a European designation-of-origin. This could be a good initiative in order to help processing tomatoes grown in Andalusia gain in strength and recognition around the world."


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