A Ripe Opportunity

The typical greenhouse-grown tomato looks and tastes like a hard pink sponge, and consumers of local, organic produce have tended to be suspicious. Not intimidated in the slightest, Reliable Organics launched a counterattack in 2005, when it began producing organic tomatoes year-round at a half-acre greenhouse in Cedar Creek. Since then, the company’s chief scientist has repeatedly offered to blind-taste-test Reliable tomatoes against any of the sun-drenched specimens available at local farmers markets.

“The way we do it allows the flavor to come through,” says Reliable’s CEO Steven Crider. “And our tomatoes are fresh—we get them to the markets the day after we pick them, never more than seven hours from farm to store. That’s the definition of local.”

Each week, Crider sells 5,000 pounds of tomatoes to HEB, Central Market and a number of smaller markets and restaurants. “I have the sense that we could sell everything we grow,” he says.

That sounded good to Venio Capital Partners, a venture capital firm that usually invests in technology, but saw a future in organic tomatoes. Newly infused with $2 million, Crider hopes to double his production in 2008.

Adios, pink sponges. We won’t miss you.