Even products as classic as broccoli, lettuce and tomatoes are due for upgrades, according to seed companies, which constantly work to improve and innovate even the produce industry’s oldest products.


St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. plans to bring a new broccolini-looking product to the U.S. this summer.


Last summer, the company launched Bellaverde in the U.K. The main idea behind it was to develop a broccoli with a raised head so that it was easier to harvest, even mechanically.


“What we noticed was when you leave the plant in the field, you get these side shoots,” said David Stark, vice president of consumer traits. “It’s like broccolini, but broccolini isn’t broccoli, it’s actually (broccoli crossed with) kale. This is just broccoli.”


The product is in stores in the U.K., and should be in field trials in the U.S. this summer.


Bayer CropScience’s vegetable seed business, Netherlands-based Nunhems, recently launched its Multy Leaf lettuce, which is smaller in height and stature so the core of the lettuce plant can be removed with one cut, leaving salad-sized pieces behind.


“With regular romaine, you have to cut it many times,” said Lara Grossman, produce chain marketing manager for Nunhems.


Grossman was formerly with Tanimura & Antle, Salinas, Calif., so she has experience on the grower-shipper side of the lettuce business.


“What’s so fascinating to me is consumer interest in these products,” Grossman said. “We (U.S.) might become more of a specialty lettuce market. Peoples’ palates are changing.”


Nunhems is big in onions in the U.S., but globally, is known for melons, tomatoes, leeks and lettuce.


Monsanto also has a new lettuce, Cosmopolitan, which is a cross between iceberg and romaine.


“People wonder, ‘Can you do anything to make iceberg more healthy?’” Stark said. “Romaine has vitamin C, vitamin A and folate, so we crossed the two. It’s sweet, and it’s really, really good.”


Yokohama, Japan-based Sakata Seed Corp is bringing a Japanese tomato, Sweet Treats, to the U.S. The new tomato is a high-flavor pink cherry tomato, said Atlee Burpee, eastern sales manager.


The company also is selling seed for a new Eastern shipping muskmelon called Atlantis, and a new butternut squash, Quantum.


New pepper varieties are the latest from Basel, Switzerland-based Syngenta.


“We have some sweet bell peppers for the Eastern U.S. that are beautiful, unique, have a long shelf life and great color,” said Dan Burdett, president of vegetable seeds for North America for Syngenta.


Hunter, Tomcat and Intruder are all blocky green bell peppers, although Tomcat is noted for its deep red color when it matures.


Tomatoes


Nunhems’ Intense tomato, which started making waves in the market in 2008, is a low-gel roma tomato said to hold its juice better than the average roma when sliced.


“We’ve had extreme interest from fresh-cut processors to quick-service restaurants around the country,” Grossman said. “There’s less waste, more value.”


Just this year, the product is being test marketed at retail on the West Coast, Grossman said.


“They’re testing it in a number of different ways,” Grossman said. “Around the world, it’s being positioned as a less soggy sandwich tomato. That seems to be working in different parts of the world.”


The company is working on an Intense round tomato with different applications, Grossman said.


“Some customers have even greater interest in round, so that’s coming down the pipeline,” Grossman said.


With tomatoes, more flavor is perceived in the nose than on the tongue, Stark said. Some of its varieties in development compete with backyard tomatoes on taste, he said.


“We’ve grown some tomatoes in the field that blow away what I can grow in my backyard,” Stark said. “We have some tomatoes with a very different flavor profile. When I’ve tried them with my kids who don’t like tomatoes, they like these. They’re very sweet.”


Some of the new tomatoes, including an orange cocktail tomato, are being grown in Ontario greenhouses, Stark said.