Calgene Inc.'s Calgene Fresh division is aiming to price its FlavrSavr tomato, which could become the first geneticallyengineered food product to reach the U.S. commercial market,at a premium of something less than double the price ofstandard fresh tomatoes.

Calgene said the exact price of the Flavr Savr has yet to be set.The company continues to probe consumers' attitudes in focusgroups and meet with food distributors. The Flavr Savr isexpected to make its market debut in mid-1993.

"We've said that it can be as much as two to three times (theprice of standard tomatoes), but we think it'll be less thanthat," said Tom Churchwell, president of Chicago-based CalgeneFresh. "Setting this up as some high-priced niche is the wrongthing."

Calgene of Davis, Calif., said Monday that it petitioned the U.S.Department of Agriculture to grow the Flavr Savr withoutUSDA permits, an action that it said earlier this month that itplanned to take. A federal proposal to regulate all geneticallyengineered foods similarly to traditional foods was proposed inMay. Calgene's petition awaits a 14-day period for publiccomment. The company expects that the USDA may formallyapprove the request for deregulation of Flavr Savr this fall.

The company has signed up two or three of the roughly onedozen major tomato packers nationwide to grow Flavr Savrsduring the first season, Churchwell said.

As for the issue of Flavr Savr's price, Churchwell said that "it'sgoing to be as low as we can get it." However, a tomato that'sengineered to vine-ripen and stay at peak flavor for extra daysmeans that it will require more careful handling than tomatoesthat are picked green.

"To change the way tomatoes taste is going to mean asignificant alteration in the quality control procedures all downthe line," Churchwell said. "It'll cost us more to handle it."

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