Tomato troubles go viral

·2 min read

An 11th-hour plea has led to an explosion of support for a Blenheim area greenhouse.

It’s a pandemic win, no matter how you slice it.

The owners of Platinum Produce discovered they couldn’t move their tomato crop because of a drop in demand from restaurants due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

So owners were left with an enormous stockpile of tomatoes and sweet bell peppers with no place to go.

“The restaurants can’t take them and we can’t sell them to grocery store chains,” said Bonnie Verbeek, who is married to co-owner Tim Verbeek.

“It’s a huge issue,” she explained. “We can’t move our product. It’s a perfect storm.”

But after Platinum posted on Facebook offering to sell flats of tomatoes for $5, and bags of peppers, customers began showing up in droves.

According to Verbeek, the first day of the sale saw a full 12 hours of people standing in line for their turn.

“People waited for 30 to 40 minutes,” she said, adding there wasn’t a single complaint.

“Everyone was super kind.”

On the second day, Platinum switched to a more manageable drive-thru model but the long line-ups continued with little break in sales.

Customers weren’t just from Chatham-Kent, said Verbeek, with people coming from the Greater Toronto Area, and even beyond. One family drove from Barrie to purchase 16 flats of tomatoes to donate to food banks, and a London man came to buy 22 flats he planned to share with elderly residents in his neighbourhood.

Platinum Produce was originally selling its 15-lb flats at a loss for $5. The company moved the price up to $10 a flat on their second day, earning them a $1 profit.

But there was no drop in demand.

Verbeek joked she’s become the company’s media spokesperson in the past week. The company is co-owned by her husband and her father-in-law, Gerard Verbeek.

But the lack of demand from restaurants, which can only sell takeout, is only part of the story Verbeek said, as Ontario greenhouses face roadblocks selling to big grocery chains.

“It’s not just about us,” Verbeek explained. “All greenhouses have the same problem.”

Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chatham Voice