Corporate Tomatoes, Company Peppers: Growing a Brand in your Garden

Campbell's Seed LogoSometimes when you pull a can of soup out of the pantry or squirt ketchup on your hamburger (or mac and cheese, like my cousins do *blech*) it can be a little difficult to remember that the ingredients had to be grown somewhere in the first place. We don’t live in a world of Soylent Green yet. What is even harder to remember is that the companies that make our food products don’t just grow a little or even an acre of just any old thing. They have to grow acres and acres of the same thing.

A major food company has to expect that every fruit or vegetable they put in their product tastes pretty close to the fruit or vegetable they put in their product 6 months… 2 year… 10 years ago. As any home gardener can tell you (probably with a few swear words), getting even the same variety of tomato or pepper to taste and produce the same year after year is no small task. Just imagine having to do it in fields that are easily larger than some European countries.

Because of this need for consistancy, many food companies have actually developed their own strains of fruits and vegetables or have kept alive some very old heirloom varieties in order to keep the quality of their products consistent.

The Tabasco chili pepper is probably the best know variety like this. Tabasco has been using the same variety of hot peppers for over 130 years. The original seed is of unknown decent and was given to the founder of Tabasco. The ancestors of that original handful of seeds still make the hot sauce you buy today. When the crop is harvested, the seeds from the best plants are carefully stored at several corporate locations and in a bank vault as well to ensure that no matter what disaster might befall the company, the Tabasco pepper will continue to be grown. The home gardener can an also buy Tabasco pepper seeds so that they can grow this variety in their own garden.

Campbell’s Soup is another company that has developed their own lines of tomatoes and peppers for use in their products. In 1948, they set out to create consistent lines of tomatoes and peppers for use in their food products. So far, 24 varieties of tomatoes and 10 varieties of peppers have been produced from their research end development center. While their seeds are not as readily available as the Tabasco brand peppers, if you know the names, you can still find them available in seed catalogs.

Heinz is another company that has invested time and money in creating new varieties of tomato seeds to keep their products consistent no matter where the tomatoes are grown. Heinz tests each new variety in 10 different countries. Most of Heinz’s varieties are used commercially and are difficult to find for the home grower, but they can be found if you know what to look for.

While you might think that corporate veggies might be less tasty than the laymen kind, you might be surprised. Remember, corporate branded produce does not have to travel as far as, say, the cardboard grocery tomato, so they are bred more for taste and production than for transportability. Certainly, if you grow them in your garden, you might be able to trick the kids into eating the Heinz tomato rather than the Heinz ketchup.

21 thoughts on “Corporate Tomatoes, Company Peppers: Growing a Brand in your Garden
  1. This makes sense. How else will they keep a recognizable product on the shelf? People develop a taste for a certain type and keep coming back for it. I’ve always been able to tell Heinz ketchup from Hunts! (Heinz is much better!)


  2. I used to marvel at the tomato fields in Florida. Acre upon acre covered in black plastic. When I lived on the farm I would grow stuff just to see how it did. I never compared year to year or kept notes, I just liked to grow stuff. I grew radishes simply because they grew so fast. They were fun to watch! My taste buds are not as refined as some people’s, I can not detect subtle differences in foods. To me a tomato is pretty much a tomato. Although, I do prefer Cherry tomatoes, not for taste, for convenience.


  3. Kristin on

    Interesting info. Never really thought about that, but it makes sense. Where do you come up with all the different ideas for your posts?


  4. Hey. Ketchup on mac and cheese is nirvana. At least for some of us. Think of it as a fine tomato wine. Especially the Heinz.


  5. That is pretty interesting! It makes sense, but it’s sure something I never really thought about before.


  6. ilex on

    Well, you gotta have consistancy to Sell More Stuff. After all, if you can’t sell more stuff, there wouldn’t be any profit. And life is completely meaningless without quarterly growth.


    There’s a solution to this Big Ag nightmare in everyone’s backyard– bring back victory gardens, and we can all take back our lives one little garden plot at a time.


  7. Great post.

    ilex, would you work if you didn’t get a paycheck? I don’t mind companies profiting. I can always opt out of participating.


  8. ilex on

    It’s not about profit. It’s about the unsustainability of the Mega-Corp model at the expense of the environment, our health, and our species’ future.

    It’s killing our soil, since petro-fertilizers destroy the soil food web. The soil food web is area of reasearch that is just beginning to be understood, and we destroy it at our peril.

    It is killing our oceans, since petro-fertilizer runoff is the leading cause of the acidificaton of oceans.

    It’s destroying the nutrient value of our foods. Nutrient value is significantly diminished when soil is made sterile with Big Ag farming techniques. The sterility is caused by the artificial fertilizers, pesticides and engineering required to prop up giant, unnatural food monocultures. Because of it, Big Ag is mainly growing empty calories for profit.

    And then there is the gasoline required to move all this fake food around, never mind the oil-based energy required to produce it…

    If more people grew just a small summer garden in their backyard, or joined a community garden or CFA, and didn’t even can surplus food for winter, we would significantly reduce our dependence on this completly unsustainable and unnecessary model of commerce. We have handed over our health and very survival over to a bunch of capitalists that have only their next quarter in mind. So I think opting out is not a solution. The planet will get by, give or take a few million years- as for us, not likely.

    But to answer your question– Yeah, I’d work. But then again I run a local vermicuture business, and I’m thinking of going non-profit.


  9. Very interesting. We’ve recently started planting tomatoes and lettuce (for starters) in the garden.. all we need now is a recipe for making Tomato Sauce and I’ll save a fortune!! 😀


  10. Sono arrivato qui attratto dal tuo: “What Flower
    Are You?”
    Ne approfitto per lasciarti un saluto dall’Italia :-)
    This garden is very “legal” for me!


  11. By buying some caned and frozen goods instead of fresh at the box stores. One might get something that is fresher that those tomatoes that were picked green and shipped to the stores. I fully intend to have my own fresh instead of fake fresh when spring comes around again.


  12. I never thought of it before. Campbell’s Tomato soup does taste the same after well over 40 years of eating it. I would have assumed it was the “better eating through chemistry” additives that made some products so consistently yummy. It’s good to know some companies still care about the source of the main ingredient. I know I’ll feel a little better when I open the next can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup or squirt Heinz over the mac and cheese.


  13. It’s good to know that some big corporates still care about taste – I suppose it would harm their product’s reputation if they didn’t. Strangely Campbell’s and Heinz’s tomato soup are a couple of the rare processed products I really like. However, my own freshly produced veg from my allotment here in England is still my first choice for fruit n veg.

    A good, thought provoking post :)


  14. Commonweeder on

    This is a fascinating post. I am heartened to know that these corporations put so much thought and effort into the taste, and the produce they use. While I totally agree with ilex’s concerns about agri-business, the use of fertilizers that kill the soil, and run-off, I think it is unrealiztic to think everyone is going to grow their own garden, and of course it is impossible for most city dwellers. I think the answer is in changing the practice of agri-business and as petroleum gets more expensive they may be forced into looking for ‘alternative’ methods which are already being proven on large scale farms. Methods like no-till. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.


  15. Hanna on

    Thanks to everyone for leaving your thoughts. I thought that this would be a fun topic to touch on and I am glad you all enjoyed it!


  16. Yes, Commonweeder (love the handle) large-scale no-till is a method that I have hopes for, too. But I still think that community gardens, rooftop gardens, and urban CSAs will be the way of the future, since $200.00/ barrel oil is about to become the new normal.


  17. Christine TX on

    When I was a kid in the early ’60’s, Campbells rented the whole front acreage of my grandparents farm in Indiana for tomatoes. They only picked once-so everything that wasn’t ready, we got to pick and can. They were really good tomatoes.


  18. An interesting article, well researched and thought out. It does not make me want to brand my vegetables though. Especially as some of the unfortunate characteristics they require or ‘picking all at one time’ and other machinery and transport adaptions.

    Thanks for the read!


  19. Thanks for an interesting article.

    In addition to preserving the seeds, another technique for maintaining consistency is averaging. With peppers I have had very mild and very hot come off the same plant on the same day. But if I chop them both up into the same chili, I get an average. Blending millions of peppers together yields more consistent results.

    And in the Tabasco paragraph, I think you meant to say, “The descendants of that original handful of seeds still make the hot sauce you buy today.” The ancestors of those plants have been dead a long time.


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