Innovation Fueling Produce Consumption

Seeds Produce a Better Sensory Experience

Innovation often starts with seeds. Bringing a new product to market can take years, and the breeder and other specialists dedicate themselves to identifying desirable traits for the coming years.

“First and foremost, we focus on benefits that will always be paramount for growers and consumers: high yield, good plant vigor, disease-resistance, ease of harvest, and superior taste and texture,” says Alicia Suits, digital media marketing specialist, Sakata Seed America, Morgan Hill, CA. “We also look at consumer trends. Several years ago, Sakata noticed a steady shift in consumer broccoli preferences toward more crown-cut and short-stemmed products. Although our program continues to breed for multi-use varieties, we have concentrated considerable time and effort into the development of varieties that are more suited for the changing market.”

The company invests in sensory data analysis of its products and their genetics compared to the competition. “This gives our customers credible third-party data on the difference in flavor, texture, shelf life and overall quality in our products,” says Suits.

Today’s seed companies marry conventional breeding with technology and other tools to identify traits that are most desirable to consumers. At Monsanto Company, St. Louis, consumer sensory lead Chow-Ming Lee, Ph.D., works with breeders and technology development teams to help the company identify and deliver sensory components in such crops as tomatoes. “We want to know what flavors and textures are most appealing to the panels of consumers we bring into our lab,” says Lee. “We also taste all the varieties ourselves to better understand what we are working with. By combining feedback from 150 or so people, we get a sense of consumer preferences.” Lee notes he and his colleagues also study the effects of volatile compounds on the smell preferences, which are more challenging to measure and understand.

“Zespri relies on innovative practices and technologies to guide us in providing the best eating experience for our consumers,” says Sarah Deaton, marketing manager, North America, Newport Beach, CA. “We have an extensive, natural cross-breeding program where we look to create new kiwifruit varieties. SunGold [Kiwifruit with golden yellow flesh] provides consumers with a balanced, sweeter taste and longer shelf life. It has a tropically sweet taste that is similar to a cross between a mango and a strawberry. With its thin, hairless skin, SunGold is easier to enjoy out of hand like an apple or plum, or cut and scooped out.”