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US gardeners rush to snap up purple tomatoes pioneered in Norfolk

22 February 2024

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A genetically modified purple tomato first produced by Norfolk scientists nearly two decades ago has been enthusiastically adopted by home gardeners after it was made available for purchase in the United States. 

Seeds of the high-anthocyanin purple tomato are in strong demand, with more than 1,200 packets selling within 48 hours of launch, and 9,600 sold in the first week. 

Norfolk Healthy Produce, a subsidiary of Norfolk Plant Sciences founded by Norwich Research Park scientists Professor Cathie Martin FRS and Professor Jonathan Jones FRS, launched its striking new product on February 6. 

The commercial launch of their first product, purple tomato seeds retailing at $20 per pack, marks a major milestone in a long journey for Professor Martin, a group leader at the John Innes Centre, who announced the purple tomato in a landmark scientific paper published in 2008. 

“Ever since we produced that innovation nearly two decades ago, it has been my wish that gardeners could grow and enjoy purple tomatoes and share in the health-giving compounds and striking beauty of the fruit. It is so exciting that gardeners in the USA are seizing the opportunity to grow them in 2024,” she said.  

The new tomato variety contains purple antioxidants called anthocyanins, the healthy nutrients also found in blueberries, blackberries, and aubergine. Anthocyanins are associated with a host of health benefits and are important to an anti-inflammatory diet. 

Professor Jones, a group leader at The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich said: “Since their launch demand for the purple tomato seeds has been remarkable, showing just how many people are interested. The beauty of this innovation is not just the gorgeous, anthocyanin packed product, but also that it enables those disinclined to adopt it to say ‘thanks, but no thanks’.” 

Because they carry two genes from an edible flower (snapdragon) that act specifically in the fruit, Norfolk Healthy Produce’s tomatoes are the only varieties that have purple antioxidants in both the flesh and the skin.  

Nathan Pumplin, CEO of Norfolk Healthy Produce, said: “We are thrilled to offer these first-of-a-kind seeds to home gardeners. Our tomato is just a tomato – you can grow it in your garden next to your Sun Golds and Purple Cherokees, and other favourite varieties. We share our gratitude to the thousands of fans who have expressed their interest and encouragement through our website.” 

Seeds are available at www.norfolkhealthyproduce.com. and are available only in the USA, where the biotechnology regulatory assessment process has been completed by USDA and FDA. The first variety is an indeterminate cherry tomato (one that produces fruit throughout the season) and can be grown using standard methods. It has been bred in a way that allows home gardeners to collect seed from this year’s crop to grow next year. 

The company says that surveys with American consumers showed that 80% are interested to eat, purchase and grow the purple tomato, knowing that it is bioengineered (as a genetically modified organism, or GMO). Only 5% of consumers were not interested. 

Norfolk Healthy Produce will be launching fresh purple tomatoes into US grocery stores later this year. 

This article was originally posted by our partner, the John Innes Centre, on their website here.

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