New Jersey, the Garden State, is famous for its Jersey tomatoes, which have been recognized for quality around the world since 1934. But none of the commercial tomato sauces sold in traditional retail were using the variety of tomatoes until Dave Stoff, founder and CEO of The Jersey Tomato Co., did it more than six years ago.
Ironically, Stoff lives in Florida. But growing up in New Jersey, he knew well the intensity of the flavors in Jersey tomatoes. As a foodie and culinary school graduate, Stoff spent several years working in the food industry. He said nobody was taking advantage of the Jersey tomatoes, which are popular nationwide, so he jumped in.
Stoff said the Jersey tomato variety tastes different from others, and no one was really using the hybrid fruit in sauces and marinaras. The Jersey tomatoes used by Stoff are grown by contract farmers in New Jersey near Swedesboro and Vineland from the middle of June through Labor Day. Stoff works with a co-packer in New York to manufacture the sauces in three distinct product flavor profiles — marinara, tomato basil and spicy. He said the co-packer is also equipped to handle new planned products.
“We started with Kroger and got national distribution in all their banners, and we have also just gone national with Sprouts. With the growing distribution that surrounded Walmart’s stores, we thought the time was right to pitch to Walmart,” Stoff said. “We knew Walmart was looking for more better-for-you products, which fit with our company mission.”
About two years ago, The Jersey Tomato Co. attended Walmart’s Made In America Open Call and said there was some immediate buzz around the brand. He said they communicated back and forth, and last year Walmart called a buyer meeting for Stoff and his business partners Keen Growth Capital.
In August, The Jersey Tomato Co. landed in hundreds of Walmart stores positioned from coast to coast in select markets. The product is not yet in Arkansas Walmarts, but it can be found in Kroger in the Little Rock market.
“We were thrilled to partner with the largest retailer in the world,” Stoff said. “This demonstrates that people everywhere are looking for high quality, low sodium sauces that actually taste amazing. We use only premium quality New Jersey tomatoes that are certified ‘Jersey Fresh.’ New Jersey tomatoes rank No. 1 in quality and taste, and our sauces deliver that ‘taste of summer’ experience that our customers are looking for.”
Sauces from The Jersey Tomato Co. cost a bit more than competitive products sold at Walmart. At $4.98, the product is $1 more than the next most expensive sauce (Mezzella) and $2.40 more costly than Emeril’s sauces. Walmart’s private brand organic marinara sells for $1.98 as does the Barilla branded sauces.
Stoff said The Jersey Tomato Co. sauces have fresher and fewer ingredients than competing products, and a cleaner label that consumers want.
“For us, it’s about the quality. Our sauces have 60% less sodium. Our products have 190 milligrams of sodium, and the average in the category is 400 mg. We add no sugar, and there is no citric acid. We are a premium, sauce at a moderate price. People are reading labels and looking for clean, healthier, better-for-you items,” Stoff said.
Aside from the lower sodium, Stoff said the sauces are not just for topping spaghetti, but they are also used by consumers for finishing off chicken or fish dishes because of the fresh taste they add.
“When you open a jar, the aroma will take you back in time to your grandma’s gravy simmering on the stove. The freshness can also be tasted,” he added. Stoff said the sauces have big flavor, but the recipe is simple. The main ingredient is the Jersey tomatoes, and he said they also use water, fresh onion, fresh garlic, olive oil, sea salt, fresh basil, black pepper and oregano. The product boasts just 40 calories in a one-half cup serving.
“It took some time to get the right flavor profile, and I made it in my apartment to start. Once I got the product I wanted, I found a co-packer to ramp up production. I have been working with my co-packer for six years, and they are great,” Stoff said.
He said really good food can travel well beyond its regions of origin like the broad affinity for New York pizza or Philly cheesesteak sandwiches.
“We have seen The Jersey Tomato sauces also appeal to a very broad audience. We have more 26,700 followers on Facebook who share their comments regularly about our product,” Stoff said.
Charlie Hunzeker posted on Nov. 9, “This is great. I was born in Trenton and lived in that great state for 13 years then got relocated to Florida, and let me tell you they have no idea what good sauce is all about. Been there [Florida] for 37 years, and this makes me happy. I found the sauce/gravy in a Publix supermarket, but not all of the locations carry it. Thank you for representing.”
Stoff said his partners at Keen Growth Capital have been instrumental in Jersey Tomato’s ability to grow and expand distribution so quickly in recent years. He said to have this partnership with Keen allows him to continue innovating on new products for the coming year. He said consumers can look forward to some simmering sauces and salsas, which he’s working on with his co-packer.
Stoff said the company is happy with its business at Walmart, having obtained prime center-of- the-shelf placement for all three of its sauce products. He said more consumers shopping all retailers want to find healthier choices in the foods they love. The product is also sold on Amazon.com and in Whole Foods as well as Publix, Fred Meyer and Winn Dixie.