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I confess: I’m obsessed with tomatoes, particularly in the late summer and fall. Much of my summer has been dedicated to conducting a sustained defensive action against the local squirrels to preserve my plants—a war which, I am happy to report, I am currently winning.

I come by this obsession honestly, as the third generation in a tomato-obsessed family of gardeners. Despite our common fascination, however, our taste in tomatoes varies–whereas my grandfather favors traditional red F1 hybrids like Early Girl, my mom and I incline towards unusual heirloom varieties like Blue Berries.

Consumers may not be ready to embrace blue tomatoes yet, but increasingly they are open to varieties other than the standard red slicer, like yellow or grape tomatoes. Such enthusiasm for different varieties has driven an impressive expansion in the produce section, from only three or four varieties of tomatoes to, often, as many as ten.

Some of these tomatoes are new varieties, but many have been around for generations, just not in commercial development. As in many other areas, the leading edge of consumers aren’t seeking wholly new products—they’re turning back to neglected foods that have been around a long time, like heirloom vegetables, ancient grains, and prehistoric beef. These trends are a boon for R&D and marketing departments alike: when everything old is new again, new product development can draw on an ever-wider range of historical resources.

When marketing these old new products, authenticity is key. Consumers value these older foods because they seem pure, pre-industrial, safe, natural—in a word, authentic. If you give the impression that you’re just jumping on the trend without embracing those implied values, you may make inroads with some less educated consumers, but your brand won’t maintain its power over a long period as consumers lose their faith in your perceived lack of authenticity.

One sure-fire way to look inauthentic is to use tactics associated with conventional food. I once saw heirloom tomatoes in a supermarket which had been waxed and washed to a high polish, giving them the same glossy appearance as the conventional tomatoes on the next shelf over. Even if this made the tomatoes more superficially pleasing, it watered down their brand by associating them with the conventional varieties that I had no intention of buying. Consumers seeking a more authentic experience are leery of marketing tactics which they associate with conventional products, so it’s crucial that you keep your brand differentiated from standard offerings—even to the extent of abandoning perceived industry best practices. A duller tomato skin may be anathema to the grocery industry, but if you’re selling an old new product, it may be what your customer needs to see to have trust in your brand.

Old new products present a huge opportunity for any company in today’s food culture. Let MarketPlace help you take advantage of that opportunity with our category intelligence, strategic focus, and obsession with foods like heirloom tomatoes. Get in touch today and we’ll schedule a time to get to know your business and your needs in developing an authentic, differentiated brand.

Matt Miller staff photo
Matt Miller writes, teaches, and practices biodynamic gardening near Reeds Spring, Missouri. A MarketPlace alum with a background in academic research, he’s fascinated with how culture, media, and business interact—and equally with the best methods of cultivating healthy fruit trees.