Painting our plates red: inspiring foodies to choose British tomatoes

British toms - Tomato and berry salad with tomato water%2c watermelon and chives

Bespoke images are vital: tomato and berry salad with tomato water, watermelon and chives

Fresh produce buyers, in their drive to increase people’s fruit and vegetable consumption, may like to take note of the British Tomato Growers’ Association (BTGA)’s latest media campaign – with its refreshingly back-to-basics approach focusing simply on the great taste and visual appeal of British-grown tomatoes

As those fresh produce buyers who use, or help to develop content for, food websites will understand, the visual appeal of tasty-looking, colourful dishes is one of the main reasons why online recipes and food blogs are so popular. With this in mind, the huge visual appeal of tomatoes – images of which arguably brighten up our computer screens like hot, glowing-red coals – is at the heart of the BTGA’s latest media campaign.

Also key to this drive is the association’s firm belief that British tomatoes taste better than those that have been imported. Philip Pearson, chairman of BTGA’s technical committee, divulges: “We had a period when we had lots of exposure and success and saw our [media] exposure going up on a curve. We then thought: ‘We have a dip now and we have to lift it.’ We considered the areas we could target and thought of the rise of the foodie because we have a product that’s both photogenic and tasty.” 

British toms - Plum tomato tart with Parmesan biscuit%2c avocado and chorizo
 Plum tomato tart with Parmesan biscuit, avocado and chorizo

Cooking with our eyes

Therefore BTGA teamed up in 2015 with Ollie Lloyd, ceo of the Great British Chefs (GBC) website, where mouth-watering recipes attract an impressive 1.1 million visits a month. Lloyd explains: “Great British Chefs is a massive website that’s built to inspire foodies to cook amazing recipes. We do that by bringing together some of Britain’s greatest chefs from all over Great Britain – literally from the Isle of Skye to the bottom of Cornwall – and we ask them to give us their recipes. And these are the guys and girls who day in and day out are producing great British food in their restaurants.”

He adds the GBC also works with bloggers: “These are people who in their spare time share their thoughts on food ideas and stuff they are cooking at home. Some of them have huge followings and we work with them to pick up different styles of cooking and to get them to create different content for us.” Lloyd also notes that every recipe on the website is accompanied by a “beautiful bespoke image.” “That’s really important to us because people cook with their eyes. We also have hundreds of different videos that show people how to make specific things, specific dishes, and on a monthly basis we are launching more than 50 recipes a month.” 

British toms - Charred mackerel with tomato cevicheChorizo and charred mackerel with tomato ceviche

The challenge: inspiring foodies to choose British tomatoes

Buyers who source fresh produce from abroad will most likely be familiar with the fact that, even when British tomatoes are in season, only 20–25% of tomatoes sold in the supermarkets are grown locally.  Lloyd explains: “The challenge we were given was to inspire foodies to choose British tomatoes – not because they [the foodies] are patriotic but because there’s a very clear reason to choose British tomatoes. And that’s about the fact that they stay on the vine longer and they’ve not had to be transported so far so they just taste better.”

With their creative flair fully fired up, GBC’s chefs therefore set about delighting their fans by producing a series of unusual and visually appealing tomato-based recipes. Such recipes remain available on both the GBC and BTGA websites and include Paul Welburn’s spring tomato gazpacho, Paul Foster’s plum tomato tart with parmesan biscuit, avocado and chorizo, and Robert Thompson’s chorizo and charred mackerel with tomato ceviche.

Moreover, chef Andrew Mackenzie has given a twist to a traditional Turkish stuffed aubergine recipe to create Imam bayildi (Turkish baked tomato and aubergine) whilst Steve Smith has rustled up a quirky salad that encourages people to pair tomatoes up with berries to create a tomato and berry salad with tomato water, watermelon and chives. Each recipe features key nouns such as “soup” that are picked up in a search to maximise their chance of being viewed.

Influencing the influencers 

The campaign has so far seen a few other initiatives added to the mix to help raise the profile of British tomatoes, including the publication of an article that, says Lloyd, “articulated to our audience why you should buy British.”

In addition to the positioning of advertising across the website, British tomatoes gained further exposure when those 145,000 foodies who subscribe to GBC’s Saturday morning email were sent a series of mailings that promoted both the newly-developed recipes and the idea of buying British tomatoes.

Social media has also been utilised in the campaign as the recipes have been posted on GBC’s Facebook page – which has more than 180,00 followers, on Pinterest – where GBC has an impressive 600,000 followers and on Twitter – where, says Lloyd, GBC has some 77,000 followers. He adds: “All the great chefs, bloggers and journalists – real hard core foodies – come to us looking for inspiration. We are influencing the influencers.” 

As many retail and foodservice buyers can undoubtedly recall, May marks British Tomato Week – an annual promotional campaign led by BTGA. This year’s event saw GBC host a Twitter Q&A with chef Paul Foster – who also took part in a cook school held during British Tomato Week at Le Cordon Bleu, London. Lloyd says: “We invited influencers – bloggers, journalists – to come along and learn about British tomatoes. We also broadcast the cook school live on Facebook. Off the back of that we got a whole lot of PR from people who were there and wrote up what they saw, what they learned and what they were taught – and some of them then went on to visit growers.” 

British toms - Spring tomato gazpacho
Spring tomato gazpacho

Enormous amount of love

Whilst the GBC and the BTGA have yet to analyse the sales impact of the campaign so far, Pearson confirms that BTGA will continue to work with GBC for the foreseeable future. Arguably, the simplicity of delighting consumers with new recipe ideas and images is a timely reminder to fresh produce buyers that, in addition to their myriad health benefits, fruits and vegetables – particularly those that are homegrown – are great-tasting and visually-stunning products that in many ways sell themselves.

As Lloyds notes: “What we have found consistently in building this campaign with bloggers and chefs and our community is that there’s an enormous amount of love from foodies for this industry. And I think the challenge in some ways is just giving them a reason to buy British.”

Pearson and Lloyd were speaking on September 29 at the UK Tomato Conference organised by the BTGA and held in Kenilworth.

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