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The purple tomato hits stores just in time for summer

Close to two decades of research birthed a biotech tomato with enhanced nutrition that is hitting retail stores just in time for summer salads. The developer, Norfolk Healthy Produce, announced on May 15 that the tomatoes will be available in select grocery stores in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic.

After the ‘thumbs up’ by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2022, the purple tomato was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the following year.

Why is the purple tomato so exciting?

While it retains the traditional flavor and texture of a classic red tomato, the purple tomato is remarkable for its additional nutritive benefits from Anthocyanin, a compound giving the fruit its distinct deep hue.

To achieve this look, Norfolk Healthy Produce introduced two genes from the snapdragon flower to the tomato which resulted in a unique color and enhanced health benefits.

Anthocyanin, which is naturally found in purple produce like blueberries, blackberries, and purple cabbage, is known to help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer, and some inflammatory diseases.

According to a study published in Nature, mice fed anthocyanin-rich foods lived 30% longer than the mice who were not.

A push to educate the public about GMOs

In addition to being sold in retail stores, Norfolk is marketing the purple tomato seeds directly to home gardeners in hopes of familiarizing the public with genetically modified foods and showing them firsthand that they are indeed safe.

“We aim to show with this product and with this company that there’s a lot of benefits that can go to consumers through biotechnology, better taste, better nutrition as prime examples,” said Norfolk Healthy Produce CEO Nathan Pumplin.

After it initially supplied specialty grocers and restaurants, Norfolk Healthy Produce partnered with greenhouse grower and distributor Red Sun Farms for the commercial production of Empress, their co-branded purple tomato.

Even before its first harvest in mid-April, Norfolk reported that interest in the Empress was overwhelmingly high.

“This is no surprise given Norfolk’s success in sales of purple tomato seed packs to backyard gardeners in the US where sales were suspended after four weeks, moving over 13,000 units,” the company said.

The tomato is now available in select stores in Virginia and North Carolina.