Vicky BoydSeminis Vegetable Seed onion breeder Jason Cavatorta (center) discusses different varieties with visitors during a field day, Aug. 14, in Woodland, Calif.WOODLAND, CA ― Chow-Ming Lee introduces himself as a sensory scientist with Monsanto’s Seminis Vegetable Seeds, but he’s quick to explain to laypeople that he’s a “taste scientist.”
Absent the title, Lee said he’s really part food scientist, part statistician and part psychologist. His job is to lead consumer sensory testing of new vegetable varieties being developed by Seminis.
“In the past two years, this team, which I belong to, has spent a lot of time on tomato flavor research, a lot of time,” he said during a field day at Monsanto’s Woodland, Calif., vegetable research facility, Aug. 14. “Our No. 1 job is tomato flavor.”
But that’s not to say that other varieties get ignored. A week ago, for example, Lee said he led a sensory test on melon varieties where trained panelists were asked to rank differences between samples.
Lee’s evaluations are part of what goes into developing new vegetable varieties that not only offer grower-shipper benefits but also consumer benefits.
In fact, Seminis has an entire department that focuses on consumer research and development.
During the past few years, the seed division has begun working with members of the produce industry to develop and market specific varieties with identified consumer benefits as branded products, said Jim Zarndt, consumer benefits business lead.
Beneforté broccoli, for example, contains two to three times the levels of glucoraphanin, a plant-based or phytonutrient, than other broccoli varieties, he said. The phytonutrient helps boost beneficial antioxidant enzyme levels.
It is marketed in partnership with Apio Inc., Guadalupe, Calif., as a fresh-cut product under its Eat Smart brand.
Syngenta Seeds Inc,, which until recently marketed its vegetable seeds under the Rogers label, has taken a slightly different approach.
It has a small number of exclusive arrangements with grower-packer-shippers for specific varieties with unique characteristics, said Mark Jirak, North American portfolio manager for melon, squash and cucumbers who’s based in Atchison, Kan.
But it’s up to the grower-packer-shipper to develop a brand and marketing strategy, he said
Matori Farms, Aguila, Ariz., for example, has an exclusive arrangement for a guanipa-type melon it markets as Lemondrop under the Kandy brand, Jirak said.
One of Syngenta’s more unique endeavors is Dulcinea Farms LLC, Ladera Ranch, Calif., which it founded as a subsidiary to grow and market unique branded produce items, he said.