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Wendy’s implements innovative tomato supply via greenhouses

DUBLIN, Ohio — Quick-service restaurant giant Wendy’s takes pride in its hamburgers. Now, the company is on another mission – obtaining a better, more reliable tomato crop.

As part of its ongoing commitment to sourcing fresh, high-quality produce, Wendy’s announced an initiative to source vine-ripened tomatoes for its U.S., Mexican and Canadian restaurants exclusively from greenhouse farms by early 2019.

“In the U.S. the tomatoes will be sourced from regions including the West Coast, the Pacific Northwest, Southeast and Great Lakes regions,” said Wendy’s Chief communications officer, Liliana Esposito. “It is too soon to tell what the cost implications of the move will be. However, there is no plan to pass costs along via increased menu prices as a result of this initiative. We see this as a continued investment in the quality of our products.”

Esposito said company officials described consistency as an attractive attribute of greenhouse-grown tomatoes.

“Greenhouse farms provide supply predictability and quality assurance benefits, including continuity of supply, protection of crops from harsh weather, safe indoor growing conditions and a significant reduction of chemical pesticides used on the plants,” said Dennis Hecker, senior vice president of quality assurance.

The company, which operates more than 6,000 locations around the world, declined to say which suppliers it will be working with as part of the initiative. The plan is for growing tomatoes in indoor greenhouses and hydroponic farms from a dozen suppliers in the United States. Nearly all the tomatoes will be sourced from the U.S. and Canada, giving the company the benefit of fresh-tasting fruit.

“We’re making this change for a variety of reasons that will benefit our customers, but taste and quality are the top factors, and we are excited about the superior flavors that we can achieve with this change,” Hecker said.

He believes that greenhouse growing will support local economies by sustaining the agricultural workforce with fresh produce that can be grown year-round in comfortable, indoor environments.

“It will also bring economic opportunities to regions that previously have been unable to support year-round agriculture production due to geography and climate,” Hecker added.

The Dublin-based fast-food company mostly buys its tomatoes from Mexico and a few states where the particular type of tomato it uses are grown. The switch to greenhouse and hydroponic tomatoes means the company will switch to growers in the U.S. and Canada. Wendy’s officials did say the company is looking at least one greenhouse in Ohio.

Wendy’s and tomatoes were also in the news together in 2016, when the Coalition of Immokalee (Fla.) Workers called for a boycott of the company because it refused to sign on to the Fair Food Program. The company said in a blog post it was already paying a premium because all its Florida tomato suppliers participated in the program.

“That situation did not figure into the decision to switch to greenhouse products,” Esposito said. “It’s all about bringing the best quality and tasting products to our customers. This is an initiative that we’ve been working on for quite some time.”