(June 11, 4:29 p.m.) Using consumer preferences to drive the development of broccoli and cauliflower varieties, Seminis Vegetable Seeds Inc. and Apio Inc. have signed a unique agreement relying on a shipper’s knowledge of new trends.

Seminis is a division of Monsanto Co., both of St. Louis, and Guadalupe, Calif.-based Apio is a division of Landec Corp., Menlo Park, Calif.

“This is a first, in terms of a collaboration agreement, since Monsanto acquired Seminis three years ago, to actually identify traits and features we should be working on within our vegetable crops,” said Mica Veihman, director of communications for Seminis. “We’re going to be looking at some more possible agreements, but Apio is the first.”

She said in the past Seminis breeders worked on projects they had identified within their own studies, and then they would search out a marketing partner.

“The approach we’re trying to take now is to talk to those companies to find out what they think consumers are looking for,” Veihman said. “We’re going to let that drive our R&D efforts. We want to define the market first and then apply our capabilities to deliver products to fill that need.”

Candice Blackmoore, Apio’s marketing director, said the collaboration offers Apio a tremendous opportunity to explore the marketplace with new products.

“This is the first time we’re actually going to take a look at a product all the way from the concept through the commercialization,” she said.

Veihman said Seminis has about 25 crops that it specializes in, including broccoli and cauliflower. She said in talking with various growers and shippers Seminis wants to line up crops with those companies are marketing.

“Apio is using broccoli and cauliflower in its party trays, and that’s the match we made,” she said.

Field trials could begin as early as fall. Now that the agreement has been signed with Apio, Seminis can put together a team to look at possible varieties and whether they’re ready for the field or more lab tests, Veihman said.

“We will work with Apio on field-trial specifications,” she said. “We have expertise on our varieties and hybrids, and they have the same expertise in terms of what they need to do to get the products to market.”

Some of the traits — or consumer features — the companies will be looking for include aroma, color, shelf life and taste, which is the most subjective and the main reason for the partnership, Veihman said.

“That’s why we’ve gone with a downstream partner that is closer to the consumer that may have more experience at what characteristics consumers are looking for,” she said. “We also need to know if we should pull in some consumer focus groups because taste is so subjective and we’re probably not the best ones to do that.”

Before Monsanto’s acquisition, Seminis had developed other specialty items and collaborated with several marketers, Veihman said.

“One of our products is with Bambino personal-sized watermelons, which are still in the marketplace,” she said. “There are also our rainbow carrots and red sweet corn with Colorful Harvest and Lettuce Jammers, our lettuce wraps we market through Misionero Vegetables, which has evolved into what we call ‘cosmopolitan lettuce.’”