Red Tomato was founded in 1996. Michael Rozyne, a co-founder of Equal Exchange, took a sabbatical from the fair trade coffee world to explore what it might look like to apply the same lessons and principles to support farmers in the northeastern U.S.
Local food had yet to grab the attention of consumers, retailers, food writers or policy makers, but it was clear that small- and medium-sized farmers were losing their ability to compete in an increasingly consolidated, global marketplace. At the same time, fresh produce available to consumers had lost much of its flavor, seasonality and even nutritional value thanks to standardization and long-distance transport and storage. Red Tomato was born out of the search for a way to connect farmers with consumers through good produce.
At first, Red Tomato functioned as a small warehouse and distribution operation, in addition to marketing, selling and helping to develop new products. Eventually, it became clear that a conventional distribution model at that scale could not compete economically. In a risky and carefully considered shift, Red Tomato closed its warehouse, cancelled its truck lease and began to concentrate on managing logistics through a network of farmers, independent truckers and wholesale partners. Coupled with renewed focus on marketing, branding and packaging to help give the farms and products more visibility with consumers, this strategy is working!
Red Tomato now markets produce for a network of regional farms and apple orchards. Over 200 retail stores in New England, New York and the mid-Atlantic carry Red Tomato produce, as well as a few select markets outside the region. Our marketing and education efforts now reach thousands of consumers, and our produce sales grow steadily each year.