They've been pruned to grow in unique shapes and last much longer on the shelf—and with names like Starlight and Comet, they'll certainly turn heads in the produce aisle.
Credit: Courtesy of Cornell University Media Relations

Phillip Griffiths is an associate professor of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University-and, unofficially, he's become a bonafide expert on grape tomatoes after spending the last 15 years researching various breeds of the bite-sized fruit. His research has been validated by something rather peculiar for a scientist to admit: Trader Joe's. After a visit to the grocer, Griffiths told Food Dive that he felt good about creating a handful of new tomato varieties that could be raised organically, with richer flavors, eye-catching colors, and a longer-lasting quality compared to traditional products that are currently in stores.

"I looked at one of the medley mixes [in Trader Joe's] and I really didn't think it looked very attractive at all based on size and just the general color mix they had in there," Griffiths told Food Dive. "Just looking at it just seemed like there is huge, huge opportunity for improvement in that whole market sector."

Griffiths began working on these new tomatoes back in 2004; his goal was to elevate colors and shapes present in heirloom varieties by cross-breeding them with cherry and grape tomatoes. He eventually settled on five varieties: A yellow fingerling tomato called Starlight; a smaller, red, grape-shaped Comet tomato; the bright orange Sungrazer; the marbled and striped Supernova variety; and the aptly named Midnight Pear tomato. Griffiths said he was inspired by the fan-favorite Cotton Candy grape when it came to naming his new varieties.

Credit: Courtesy of Cornell University Media Relations

There's a chance that you've already seen Griffiths' tomatoes, which he calls the "Galaxy Suite," in stores-Wegmans, a Northeastern regional grocer, tested a few of the varieties on its organic fields last season, according to this Cornell University press release.

"They grew and produced well, and Phillip's focus on developing varieties that produce high flavor, without jeopardizing productivity, really came through," Jess Crabtree, the growing manager at the Wegmans Organic Farm and Orchard, told Food Dive in a statement.

This year, commercial farmers who are interested in growing these new tomato varieties can actually buy them from a seed supplier based in Vermont. Shoppers may be able to find them in farmers markets in 2019, and Griffiths said he's hopeful that fresh-focused retailers like Wegmans, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods would pick up the tomatoes in 2020 if customers are pleased with his product this summer.


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