In December 2022, a couple of journalists from the Italian national TV network RAI 3 came to talk to us about San Marzano tomatoes in the US. They wanted to find out where the real DOP San Marzano tomatoes end up once they cross the Atlantic, and how there can be so many brands masquerading as “San Marzano Tomatoes” in US grocery stores. We can’t overstate the importance of this kind of journalism. For decades, US brands have marketed imported plum tomatoes as “San Marzano Tomatoes” with misleading labels intentionally crafted to confuse shoppers. Emanuele Bellano and Chiara D’Ambros’ work for Rai Report exposed these impostors and proved what we’ve been saying for years.
“The Wild West of Designations and Names”
Many of the brands labeled “San Marzano Tomatoes” here in the US are illegal to sell in Europe. That’s because the United States doesn’t recognize the Protected Designation of Origin legislation enforced in the EU. As our president Beatrice put it in her interview: “We’re in the Wild West of designations and names”. In the EU, for a product to be labeled “San Marzano Tomatoes” the tomatoes must abide by very strict rules. This is to protect the consumer and assure the quality of their purchase. However, no such protections exist in the United States. It’s up to you, the shopper, to determine what’s real and what’s pure marketing.
As Report Rai 3 proves, perhaps the biggest offender is the omnipresent brand Cento. While their plum-shaped tomatoes are grown in Italy, they are NOT DOP-certified San Marzano tomatoes. That’s despite the large “CERTIFIED” lettering on their packaging. Cento claims this is in reference to a voluntary certification by Bio Agri Cert, yet that same organization says it was never approved. This doesn’t sound good. Other common brands such as “La San Marzano” and “La Bella San Marzano” are nothing but oblong tomatoes. They are produced in Italy but only sold in the US. It’s illegal to sell these brands in Europe, since they intentionally mislead consumers.
Harmful to Italian Farmers
Beyond the deception, fake San Marzano tomatoes sabotage Italian farmers making the real thing. Gustarosso’s founder and president Eduardo Ruggiero says as little as 5% of tomatoes labeled “San Marzano” in the US are real DOP San Marzanos. This is hugely harmful to business such as Gustarosso trying to sell an honest product. Protecting Italian food culture, traditions, and heritage is at the core of our mission. We urge you to pay attention to where your groceries come from. Grazie Emanuele, Chiara e tutta la squadra Rai 3 for bringing this monumental issue to light.
Watch the Rai3 Report episode “La Guerra del DOP” here, you can spot our very own Beatrice at 11:20!