ACHIEVING 100% SUSTAINABLE KETCHUP TOMATOES BY 2025

ACHIEVING 100% SUSTAINABLE KETCHUP TOMATOES BY 2025
“Protect the consumer by owning the product all the way from the soil to the table” Henry J Heinz.
 ACHIEVING 100% SUSTAINABLE KETCHUP TOMATOES BY 2025

Henry J. Heinz believed in delivering tasty and quality products – right the way from the soil to the table. He brought this vision to life from the very first bottle of Heinz Horseradish which he grew on a patch garden his parents gave him. And it’s the same principle we still use in the products we sell today.

In 2020 we made a new commitment, to further enhance our sustainable agricultural practices to protect good food for future generations to enjoy. When it comes to Heinz, it all starts with our delicious tomatoes.

To support our ambition and aid our growers to go on this journey with us, we have joined the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform to enable collaboration and partnership with our peers and drive industry alignment on the principles and practices of sustainable agriculture. At the heart of our programme lies soil health management (amongst other agricultural practices such as water, ecosystem and energy management).

In fact, soil has been important to us from the very beginning when back in the 1860s Henry J. Heinz, started selling Heinz Horseradish in his mother’s garden. One of his famous quotes was “protect the consumer by owning the product all the way from the soil to the table”, a motto that Heinz lives up to this day, over 150 years later.

While we’re on a sustainability journey, our partnership with SAI Platform is key to helping us achieve our sustainable sourcing ketchup tomatoes commitment. It provides an opportunity to collaborate and partner with others on the journey to amplify our positive impact.

SPANISH COVER CROPPING

Spain is ketchup tomato heaven - with the perfect conditions to help us grow our delicious sun-ripened tomatoes, farmers have been growing tomatoes there since Roman times! 

The Vasquez family who own Conesa have been growing tomatoes with us for decades, passing their expert tomato knowledge and ensuring each stage of the tomato growth is as good as it should be!

Over a decade ago, we partnered with them to help improve their agricultural practices and the quality of their tomato crops. We understood the main issue was the over-tilling of the fields. Tilling is a common farming technique that aims to prepare soil for the next crop by digging, stirring and overturning. Over time, through over-tilling and other sub-optimal practices, the top layer of soil, that feeds crops and helps them grow, becomes less penetrable, dry, and lacking the nutrient density in the soil required to grow crops like our unique ketchup tomatoes. 

Through a technique called ‘ripping’, we were able to  penetrate the hard compacted soil which broke up the hard layer and overtime, helped the soil fill up with nutrients to improve the growth of our tasty tomatoes. We also introduced cover cropping (planting crops such as grasses intermittently between tomato harvests) to help strengthen the soil and build its nutrients to build soil back up. 

Through these soil-restoring practices, the topsoil layer increased significantly and so did the quantity of tomatoes in the Conesa family's fields. With this technique, we have helped improve organic matter from 0.94 to 1.8% and tomato yields from an average of 70-90 tons per hectare 110 tons/hectare annually from 2016 to 2021. 

At first, this was piloted in just four fields but today, 100% of farms growing Heinz tomatoes in Spain apply cover crops, and thanks to the hard work and expertise of the Conesa family, they are protecting the land for future generations to enjoy the ketchup tomatoes they know and love. 

CALIFORNIA’S COVER CROPPING 

At Heinz we know that the higher the quality of  soil, the more nutrients the tomato plant has access to, whilst creating stronger root systems. But some of our farms in California had a problem; the soil post-harvest was becoming weak and lacking nutrients, so we knew we had an opportunity to improve the growth of strong and healthy tomato crops to make our delicious tomato ketchup. 

We approached our farmers with a farming technique called cover-cropping to help strengthen the soil and build back its nutrients by planting crops such as grasses intermittently between tomato harvests to build soil back up. 

Like us humans, soil loves variety! Soil is living and breathing so when you plant different varieties of crops in soil that are not harvested, it feeds it with organic matter that decomposes over time and provides the soil with a super-nutritious, microbial community that makes it stronger. All of this is important as healthy, strong soil means healthy crops, healthy root systems and lots of rich, tasty tomatoes to deliver the ketchup consumers know and love! 

Back in 2017, the average organic matter of the soils in California was 0.94%. With the introduction of cover cropping, this has increased by over 100% over a 6-year period. Not only that, but the water-holding capacity of the soil has increased allowing crops to keep hydrated. 

With the great work and care that our farmers have undertaken in California to take care of the soil, their tomato crops are also now more robust and healthy too, meaning sustainable agricultural practices are a win-win for our growers and the planet! 

GROWING STRONGER ROOTS IN BRAZIL

Many people don’t know that a sunny climate and little rain are perfect for growing our delicious tomatoes that are sold in Brazil. But the higher the quality of soil that our plants have access to, the better.

In 2015, we were looking for ways to keep up with the growing demand for the ketchup tomatoes our consumers know and love.  Our crops were reliant on overhead watering systems instead of an underground water supply to ensure enough water penetrates the soil. Unfortunately, this meant our tomato plants had shallow roots. We had an opportunity to grow stronger root systems, with crops accessing more nutrients to grow high quality tomatoes. 

We worked closely with the farmers by introducing a system that applies nutrients to the soil as well as increasing the watering interval from 2-3 days to a 9-day interval. Through “starving” the plant of water (don’t worry, they lived!), it forced the tomato plant to dig deeper and find water deeper in the soil which made it grow deeper and stronger roots. 

With root systems becoming much more robust, the plants were able to gain access to deeper layers of soil, leading to healthier, high-performing crops and more tomatoes! 

This pilot was originally implemented on three farms in Brazil but it has since been noticed that neighbouring farmers have also adopted these practices beyond those growing tomatoes. Through knowledge-sharing, we have been able to help those growers we directly work with, but also the farms in the surrounding regions to protect good food for future generations to enjoy.