Apr 7, 2007
Taste, Tolerance Remain Popular Trends For Vegetable Industry

Eating quality, disease resistance and shelf life are the three key talking points in the vegetable seed industry right now, according to industry insiders.

However, there are other characteristics seed officials are excited about. Each company has a slightly different take on industry trends.

Roger Rupp, owner of Rupp Seeds in Ohio, said synergistic-type sweet corn is becoming more popular. It has higher eating quality and a longer shelf life than older varieties.

Rupp has seen an increased emphasis on disease resistance, especially in pumpkins. Powdery mildew-tolerant pumpkins are a recent development that has piqued growers’ interest, but it’s not a cure-all.

“We have yet to see a marketable pumpkin that won’t get powdery mildew, that’s why we have to maintain sprays,” he said. “Even pumpkins that claim tolerance will still get powdery mildew to one degree or another.”

Breeding programs continue to refine shape, color and other characteristics that make vegetables more popular in the marketplace and the field, Rupp said.

Jamie Hoffman, president of Outstanding Seed Company in Pennsylvania, said disease tolerance was becoming more important in pumpkin breeding. Taste is also a factor, however.

“I get asked more and more for better eating-quality pumpkins for baking,” he said. “We haven’t focused on it yet, but we will.”

Good eating quality is becoming more important, especially in tomatoes and peppers. White peppers, which lack the chlorophyll that make most peppers bitter, have a sweet taste that is catching on, Hoffman said.

Eating quality also is important in sweet corn and tomatoes. There are a higher number of better eating-quality tomatoes on the market today than there were five years ago, he said.

Corinne Marshall, a vegetable marketer for Japan’s Sakata Seed, said quite a few companies are introducing grape tomatoes, which has expanded the overall tomato category.

Sakata soon will launch its own variety: Sweet Hearts grape tomatoes. Sweet Hearts are superior to other grape tomatoes because they offer impressive yields, good resistance to cracking and full clusters to the top of the plant, all of which appeal to growers. They’re also sweet, nutritious and have an excellent shelf life, which appeals to consumers, Marshall said.

“It’s exciting for us and the produce industry,” she said. “Data we’ve obtained shows grape tomatoes are the highest growth-profit item. Consumers do value taste over price.”

Ken DeBruyn, owner of DeBruyn Seed in Michigan, said his company deals with the home garden market. The year 2005 has been good, with vegetable sales up from last year.

“The uncertainty of economic conditions has caused people to plant more gardens,” he said. “The last time I saw an increase in gardening was during the Nixon administration.”

DeBruyn said he expects the gardening trend to continue.

“I follow tried and true varieties, as far as home gardens go,” he said. “In sweet corn, it’s always flavor. In pumpkins, it’s disease resistance.”

Sweet corn sales were good this spring, especially triple sweet varieties, with their extra sweet taste and creamy texture. Red potatoes have always been a strong item for his company and continue to be popular, DeBruyn said.

Jan Meeuwsen, assistant manager at DeBruyn Seed, said she’s seeing more trends toward heirloom tomatoes, like the Brandywine. Salsa making has become a popular pastime.

Another big trend is ethnic cooking. DeBruyn has added tomatillos and cilantro to its lineup to appeal to Hispanic consumers, Meeuwsen said.

Blue potatoes have also proven popular. They retain their color when cooked. People can use them with red and white potatoes to make red, white and blue potato salad. Peanuts and decorative items like gourds are more popular with customers these days, but peas are losing their popularity, she said.

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