“They’re sweeter and have thinner skin so they’re not so chewy.”
Gale said snacking vegetables, including baby carrots and miniature cucumbers, are also a category of focus for seed breeder-producers. Carrots produced to become baby carrots are sweeter varieties than those produced for the cello carrot market, he said.
New varieties of lettuce have emerged as consumers demanded more lettuce options and a different way to buy their leafy green vegetables, said Kelly Keithly, owner and president of Keithly-Williams Seed, Holtville, Calif.
“There’s been a reduction in the amount of head lettuce used in favor of the leaf lettuces,” Keithly said.
“A lot of that has gone to baby leaf. And consumers are buying more of their items in plastic boxes.”
Agronomic traits remain a primary focus of all seed breeding efforts. Van de Burgt said because of the rapid development of new plant diseases, breeders need to develop disease-resistant varieties just as quickly.
New varieties that allow the grower more control over size and uniformity, and even those that show more clearly when they’re ready to be picked, all lead to improvement in the item on the shelf.
Ana Maria Cota, sales representative for West Mexico and Arizona for San Diego-based Ahern International Seeds Inc., said there have been increased efforts in breeding of peppers and tomatoes for disease resistance.
“I think the consumer is demanding more taste, but breeding programs are still very focused on yield,” Cota said.
“In my area, everything has been pretty constant outside of protected culture due to growing insect problems.”