Despite expectations of an 11 per cent rise in tomato production for processing in 2004/5, major producers' organisations (Unaproa and Uiapoa) recently reported that bad weather conditions had 'made fruitless' a 6.2 per cent rise in planted acreage and the 2004 processed production would be about the same as last year's 5,266MT.
US economists from the Foreign Agricultural Service report that in northern regions of Italy - 'home of production of round tomato varieties for paste and sauce production - heavy rain coincided with the transplantation period slowing down farm operations and creating difficulties in accessing the fields.
In southern regions, mainly responsible for production of long varieties for canning, unusual spring rains caused serious phytosanitary problems,' said the FAS.
The reduced production and consequently fewer suppliers could boost the prices for tomatoes. Knocked by over production in 1999-2000, the global tomato processing industry has seen prices tumble in recent years, a situation that is only now just starting to improve.
Growing competition from China - now the third largest producer although 10 years ago a small player, has also diluted prices. And imminent competition from producers in an enlarged Europe will also change the landscape and make for pressing times for the industry.
'Prices for tomatoes only started to rise some 15 months ago,' a spokesperson for AMITOM, the Mediterranean International Association of the Tomato Processing recently told FoodNavigator.com.
'Many companies have suffered in Europe, particularly smaller producers such as France, and we are still feeling the impact of overproduction,' he added.
California is currently the largest tomato processor, followed by Italy and the new kid on the top block, China.
'The industry continues to feel the impact of emerging markets such as China, Chili and Turkey,' said the industry body.
In Europe, 8.5 million tons of tomatoes are cultivated annually with 1.5 million tons sold directly to the consumer and 7 million are processed for products such as ketchup and sauces.
The US economists also reported that in June the Italian government adopted a proposed regulation laying out stricter rules on the labelling of tomato products. The proposed regulation has to be converted into law by the Parliament within 60 days from the adoption - by 24 August.
It sets a legal definition for what is generally referred to in Italian as 'passata di pomodoro' - a definition that is now lacking at an EU and at country level.
Passata is skinned, seedless, unflavored, uncooked tomato pulp, either slightly chunky or smooth. Up until now the passata has been produced either by direct processing of fresh tomato or by mixing dehydrated tomato paste and tomato sauce. According to the new Italian definition only the product derived from the processing of freshtomatoes can be labelled as 'passata di pomodoro'.
Authorised production methods - for example, partial concentration - further product characteristics, and compliance controls for the passata will be ruled by the Italian government before definitive approval of the proposed regulation by the Parliament.