DNA Plant Technology (DNAP) and Meyer Tomatoes of KingCity, Calif. have formed a joint development agreement for theproduction and marketing of DNAP's VineSweet tomatoes -expected to be on the market in the first half of 1993.

Meyer's expertise will be employed in the growing and promptdelivery of product to marketplace, and both companies willshare marketing responsibilities, said Richard Sykes, DNAP'streasurer and vice president of finance. Production will becarried out at Meyer facilities in California and Mexico.

"We've looked at what the consumer wants and what we'redelivering is a good tasting tomato with 12-month availability.The testing we've done shows consumers are willing to pay,"Sykes said. DNAP's tomato will cost from 150 percent to 250percent more than conventionally produced tomatoes.

VineSweet tomatoes were created using somaclonal variationtechnology, a process whereby cells extracted from leaves orother plant tissue are used to generate new varieties of plants.As plants are regenerated, some genetic variability isexpressed. The most desirable characteristics are selected andintroduced into a growing and breeding program.

Consumer taste tests conducted in four cites have indicated athree-to-one preference for VineSweet tomatoes over standardvarieties, according to DNAP. Unlike commercial tomatoes,which are ripened with ethylene gas, VineSweet tomatoesripen naturally during transport and have a shelf life of sevento 10 days compared to three or four days in typical vine-ripened tomatoes.

DNAP has a patent application pending for the germplasm thatproduces the VineSweet tomato. According to the company,DNAP's technology is an extension of traditional breedingtechniques, thus FDA and USDA regulatory approvals are notrequired.

Calgene's Flavr Savr tomato, a genetically engineered product,is also expected to enter the marketplace in the first half of1993. George Dahlman, an analyst with Piper, Jaffray &Hopwood in Minneapolis, is not sure which tomato will prove tobe the better product.

"Calgene has been very open and up-front about the waythey've approached the market but we haven't seen nearly asmuch about DNAP's tomato." Dahlman believes, however, "thereis a very legitimate opportunity for both companies in thismarket." The U.S. retail market for fresh tomatoes is currently$4 billion.

Jim McCamant of the Medical Technology Stock Letter inBerkeley, Calif., believes DNAP's product won't be superior to agenetically engineered tomato because its means of productionis not significantly different from conventionally producedtomatoes. "At best, it has an incremental, modest advantageover the conventional method," he said.

Calgene's tomato could enter the market immediately undernew FDA policy, said McCamant, but, as a precaution, thecompany has requested an FDA advisory opinion of its tomatoprior to market entry. DNAP (NASDAQ:DNAP) closed Thursdayat $6.06, up 56 cents a share.

-- Michelle Slade Associate Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.