The seed industry may be consolidating, with fewer players carrying broader product lines.
What’s happening within those product lines, though, is great diversification, largely based on the more recent movement toward developing products for their performance on the market, not just their performance in the fields.
“One of the big changes to our industry, if you just go back eight to 10 years, or if you go back centuries, product development has been focused almost completely on the growers,” said Dan Burdett, president of vegetable seeds for North America for Basel, Switzerland-based Syngenta.
“Those are still critical, but now we have to balance that with the presence of fruit traits that appeal to the consumer, like flavor, ship-ability, mouth feel,” Burdett said.
David Stark, vice president of consumer traits for St. Louis-based Monsanto Co., said taste is the biggest reason the agriculture industry struggles at getting more healthful food onto peoples’ plates.
“So it’s good for the seed industry, good for moms and dads, good for all consumers to focus on taste,” Stark said.
Atlee Burpee, eastern sales manager for Yokohama, Japan-based Sakata Seed Corp., said breeding objectives for newer varieties also will include an increased emphasis on nutritional benefits.
Burdett said seed companies can create value all the way through the chain by innovating at the plant science level.
“Does it look good, smell good, have good mouth feel, does it taste good? All those have to be understood at the scientific level,” Burdett said.
Syngenta’s main fresh fruit and vegetable products are sweet corn, watermelon, melon, peppers, squash, green beans and spinach.
Lara Grossman, former marketing and product development director for Tanimura & Antle, Salinas, Calif., said the same thing is happening at her new place of business, Netherlands-based Nunhems, Bayer CropScience’s vegetable seed business.
“That’s kind of the trend all seed companies are experiencing, working more with the end consumer,” Grossman said. “We look at market data, and have a lab where we look at what consumers will like.”
In order to better develop products with the consumer in mind, seed companies are asking for more help from companies at the other end of the chain, including retailers.
Monsanto started working directly with St. Louis-based Schnuck Markets Inc. on its latest onion innovation, the EverMild sweet onion. The seed is meant to be grown in the Pacific Northwest to produce onions for September to March, to complement the Vidalia and other sweet onion seasons.