Dutch company popularizes veggies with snack packs

By Meghan Morris

Getting kids to eat vegetables is tough – even if they’re royalty.

The king of the Netherlands said in an interview in the Hague last week that he and his wife fight a continuous battle against sugar consumption by their three daughters, ages 11, 9 and 8. But the princesses will eat Tommies, a Dutch brand of vegetables packaged in portable containers that’s exploded in popularity during the last decade.

Aimed at children but now popular with adults, the on-the-go snacks launched in 2005 with plastic cups filled with cherry tomatoes. Parent company Greenco, a marketer of Dutch tomatoes, has since expanded into other vegetables such as snack cucumbers to fill a market niche that didn’t exist before the manufacturer put cartoon figures on the front of tomato packaging.

Greenco owner Jos van Mil said the company capitalized on shifting eating habits. Like Americans, the Dutch have started snacking more in the last few decades, rather than eating three meals a day – and fatty snacks are starting to impact the country’s collective waistline.

Children are particularly vulnerable to the food industry’s marketing techniques familiar to any parent, from the friendly face of Ronald McDonald to branded supermarket foods. Van Mil said he applied the marketing concepts of cartoon characters and child-sized food to vegetables. Now, a clown with a cherry tomato nose stretches his arms out on plastic cups and bags filled with a more nutritious snack, which the company markets like sweet candy rather than an unpleasant vegetable.

“The kids are our customer for the future,” van Mil said in a presentation to American journalists.

Below are scenes from the press presentation that demonstrate how Greenco found an untapped market for these snacks. This behind-the-scenes look at TomatoWorld, a multi-grower collaboration initiated by Greenco, also explains some of the Dutch innovation that allows pesticide-free production in greenhouses across the country. (Click on each photo.)

Selling vegetables like candy has been beneficial for the company’s bottom line as well as for customers’ waistlines. Greenco has expanded to production facilities in three more countries. In North America, the company grows fruit in Mexico and sells shakers on the West Coast.

Meghan Morris reported from the Netherlands as part of a Dutch embassy-sponsored trip for journalists.

Photo at top: These tomatoes are just two of the 30 million pieces of fruit Greenco produces weekly in its four production facilities. (Meghan Morris/Medill)