Schnucks is test marketing the trademarked and branded vegetable variety, complete with in-store sampling and demonstrations.
“You have the consumer behavior information, you can do taste studies,” Burdett said. “We are scientists. If we can connect those two, we can have a big application.”
Grossman said a growing number of retailers are eager to work with seed companies, as are fresh-cut processors.
“An awful lot of it is talking with people in the industry, doing focus groups, remedying problems,” Stark said.
Seed companies also are trying to work further down the chain with the foodservice industry to meet its needs and develop products with traits that make them more attractive for foodservice use.
One of the consequences of targeted development is that crops will become more specific to their end users.
“We’ll see products that are going into specific packaging. This variety is for clamshells, this for something different,” Burdett said.
He predicts more packer-shippers will be going to growers asking for specific varieties to be grown for different purposes.
“But that’s the interesting thing because that’s what creates value,” Burdett said.
Growers — the middlemen
Seed companies are by no means ignoring growers using their products, though. Seed developers continue to work on plants with better disease resistance, yield and harvestability.
“By 2050, there will be another 2 billion people on the planet, and we have to feed and clothe those people,” Burdett said. “R&D that increases productivity is just a huge global challenge.”
Syngenta spends $1 billion per year on research and development, and it all goes back into the plants, Burdett said.
“The main focus is how we take technology and improve seeds so food that comes out tastes better and is grown easier,” Stark said.
Burpee said as labor rates increase, there will also be greater attention paid to developing varieties suitable for mechanical harvest.
The seed industry isn’t the only industry that’s consolidating, according to Art Abbott, president and chief executive officer of Abbott & Cobb, Feasterville, Pa.
The seed industry is catering to a smaller, more refined group of growers, he said.
“Just as the chain stores are merging or being acquired by even larger organizations, grower-shipper-broker collectives are becoming the norm,” Abbott said. “That, and the push toward consumer awareness and satisfaction, makes it more critical than ever to be able to supply product on a 12-month cycle.”
The challenge is to provide a group of varieties that meet the adverse conditions from one growing region to another while still meeting the grower’s need for yield, and at the same time meeting the consumer’s need for quality.