Food Valley Society
Get connected with the members of Food Valley NL

Trend-setting new vegetable varieties

Published: 22-03-2016, | Member: Syngenta Crop Protection

Syngenta’s vegetable seed breeders are working hard to develop new varieties. They focus on three goals: a higher yield, fewer losses in the supply chain and consumers’ kitchens, and new colors and tastes. Plant genetics offers unlimited potential and modern technology makes the development of new varieties faster and more efficient.

“To Syngenta, innovation is synonymous with bringing plant potential to life,” says Gerard Barendregt, Syngenta’s Vegetable Campaign Manager for the Benelux. Syngenta is a world player in agrochemicals and seeds with subsidiaries in more than 90 countries and more than 26,000 employees worldwide. Research and development is one of the company’s core activities. For its plant breeding program, the company uses all the latest technologies, such as marker technology.

Barendregt explains the company’s plant breeding focus. “There are three areas we’re working on: the first is crops with a higher yield that require less water, soil and fertilizer to grow; the second is improving the reliability of both the variety and the product itself, and the third is increasing our varieties’ distinctive character to increase their marketability. The first two areas are directly related to corporate responsibility and issues such as climate change, water shortages and reducing our dependence on chemicals. Our third focus has to do with consumer demands in the Western world, and pertains mainly to vegetables.”

Healthy snacks
“Developing a new vegetable variety starts with us drawing up a plan of what we want to achieve,” Barendregt explains. “The choice of species follows after years of testing in various circumstances. Modern technology helps us to select and develop new varieties more efficiently, which also speeds up the process.”

A consumer trend that Syngenta was one of the first companies to pick up on, is the demand for healthy snacks. “In 2000, we introduced a snack-size tomato, a ‘baby plum tomato’,” Barendregt says. “The time was ripe and this innovation quickly caught on with both wholesalers and retailers. Now, snack-size tomatoes have become an important market segment.”

In response to this success, Syngenta is now working on a seedless snack-size bell pepper. “We’ve got a great variety, but it happens to be red. And consumers associate a small red pepper with a chili pepper. That complicates matters. When you launch an innovation, your story must be crystal clear. The solution is probably to change the pepper’s color, and that’s what we’re working on now.”

Brassica innovations
Over the past few years, Syngenta has also developed several innovative Brassica varieties. Recently, the company introduced a new broccoli cultivar named ‘Monflor’. This cultivar grows various small florets on a thin stem, which has several benefits. “It’s labor-friendly and helps reduce food waste,” Barendregt claims. “For the food services industry, the florets’ even, green color has advantages over the variation in color in a regular head of broccoli. And the cultivar has much thinner stems, resulting in less food waste.”

Other Brassica innovations from the plant breeder include ‘Redarling’ purple Brussels sprouts that retain their color when stir fried or steamed, and a new type of cabbage called ‘Frivole’, which is a hybrid of Brussels sprouts and kale. “Both products not only look and taste quite differently, they’re also very convenient. It’s easy to prepare them, and it takes no time at all.”

Integrated chain approach
Vegetable seed breeders increasingly take an integrated chain approach, taking retail and consumer demands into account. Syngenta employs several product specialists who keep a close eye on market developments. The signals they pick up on often prompt new innovations. Syngenta’s new water melon is an example of how new varieties are developed in response to market signals. The new watermelon has firmer pulp, reducing the leakage of its slices. This is far more practical for companies that sell watermelons in slices. Another innovation is a smaller, seedless watermelon. This type weighs about 1.2 kilos, which is the size most Western consumers prefer.

Barendregt says innovation in vegetables requires a long-term approach. “It’s a matter of staying way ahead of the game. We’re working on innovations that will hit the market in ten years’ time, or even longer. But when the time comes, everything needs to add up and that requires every link in the chain to be on board: plant breeders, wholesalers and retailers. The length of that cycle is our biggest challenge.”

Syngenta Crop Protection