Imported Greenhouse Tomatoes From Mexico Illustrate the Growing Diversity in Fresh-Market Tomatoes
As the U.S. fresh-market tomato sector has evolved to provide an increasing volume and variety of globally sourced offerings, U.S. per capita availability of fresh-market tomatoes has steadily risen. Growing imports, changing consumer demographics and tastes, and emerging production technology are among the major factors shaping the fresh tomato market. One illustration of the convergence of these drivers comes from the rising availability of greenhouse-grown tomatoes, which provide year-round access to more diverse tomato varieties than were previously available. In 2017, greenhouse tomatoes accounted for approximately 56 percent of total imported fresh tomatoes and about 32 percent of total domestic supply.
Prior to 2005, U.S., Mexican, and Canadian growers each contributed about 300 million pounds of greenhouse tomatoes annually to the U.S. fresh-tomato market. Since then, Mexico’s share of the greenhouse tomato market has grown sharply, averaging 35 percent annual growth, in parallel with expanding shipments of field-grown fresh tomatoes from Mexico to the United States. In 2017, imports from Mexico accounted for almost 84 percent (1.8 billion pounds) of the greenhouse-tomato volume coming into the U.S. market. Imports of Canadian greenhouse-grown tomatoes have remained at about 300 million pounds.
Greenhouse-tomato producers can realize many benefits (as compared to producers of field-grown fresh tomatoes), including greater market access in the off-season, better product consistency, and improved yields. These benefits make greenhouse tomato production an increasingly attractive alternative to field production despite higher production costs. Traditionally, imported fresh-market tomatoes were counter-seasonal to the domestic supply. However, greenhouse production is changing that import/domestic supply cycle, especially for some varieties that are easily cultivated in a protected environment, such as cherry and grape tomatoes.
The fresh-market tomato sector has evolved to provide more specialized and globally sourced offerings for U.S. consumers. Expanding access to diverse and consistently available supplies of fresh-market tomatoes has contributed to the long-term trend of rising per capita fresh-market tomato availability. Imports of both field- and greenhouse-grown tomatoes are increasingly supplementing domestic production and reducing U.S. growers’ share of total supply, which fell to 42 percent in 2017. Fresh-tomato markets are also becoming more highly differentiated, with multiple varieties—including cherry, grape, plum, and organic options being marketed alongside traditional field-grown round tomatoes. By evolving in response to changing consumer demands and market opportunities, the fresh-tomato sector has experienced a long period of expanding supplies and per capita availability.
Unpacking the Growth in Per Capita Availability of Fresh Market Tomatoes, by Sarah Baskins, Jennifer K. Bond, and Travis Minor, ERS, March 2019