Sustainability is vital to everyone in the food chain, which is why Rijk Zwaan is responding with varieties that are higher yielding, resistant to pests and diseases, reduce waste and excite consumers with new and interesting ways to consume vegetables.
Food trends have a major impact on the breeding direction of vegetable seed companies. With the explosion of health conscious eating, lifestyle choices like vegetarianism, as well as the sharp and rapid increase in the popularity of burgers, Rijk Zwaan has been busy crafting new lettuce types that not only meet these demands but are bred with sustainability in mind.
Rijk Zwaan’s Retail and Chain Manager, Frances Tolson, said there are many opportunities to create new products that inspire the food service industry.
“We’re excited about Crystal lettuces, which feature a flat, open vibrant green leaf with a frilly edge and a distinctive crunch,” Frances said.
The leaf is specifically designed for single, loose-leaf service application such as sandwiches and burgers as it can retain its taste, texture and crunch on hot and cold ingredients. Crystal lettuce, ‘burger leaves’, can also be grown hydroponically and since it’s fit for purpose, it helps to reduce waste in food service.
As consumers look for lighter food options, Rijk Zwaan has responded with its newest innovations: Crunchy Cos and Snack lettuce.
“Crunchy lettuces have leaves that taste sweet, are green on the outside and inside and while they are elongated like a Cos, the leaves are more ‘boat shaped’. These combined characteristics create an excellent taste experience,” Frances said.
In addition to being a fantastic base for Caesar salads, the larger Crunchy Cos varieties like Coronita RZ and Verodita RZ are being used in place of tacos and flatbread wraps, offering healthier and gluten-free lettuce options for ‘on the go’ products.
The smaller Crunchy varieties have inspired a new trend called ‘Snack lettuce’, a concept developed in Spain especially for the modern tapas market. The concept was recognised with an innovation award at the 2018 Fruit Attraction, Spain. Tendita RZ is the first variety developed with bite-sized leaves that are sweet and hold their unique spoon shape and crunch even with warm fillings or acidic toppings or dips.
Growers are not missing out on the improvements to lettuce varieties either.
“We’re bringing in varieties with added value such as higher yields, better uniformity and improved resistances and this leads towards better sustainability enabling growers to achieve higher levels of efficiency and output for the same inputs,” Frances said.
According to feedback from growers and processors, Rijk Zwaan’s Cos varieties are also showing higher levels of factory recovery for processing. With some varieties, processors will only be able to shred 40-50% of a Cos for a salad bag, but with the varieties Lotus RZ and Gradara RZ; it’s regularly over 70% yield.
Two of the greatest success stories in lettuce are the award-winning Knox™ trait, which delays oxidation in cut surfaces of lettuce, and the Salanova® lettuce. With just one cut at its base, a mature Salanova lettuce separates into multiple evenly proportioned, baby-sized leaves.
“Salanova has re-invigorated the Australian salad market with the recent launch of a butter leaf mix in leading supermarkets. This is an indication of peoples’ eagerness for top quality leaves,” Frances said.
“We see huge growth in the pre-prepared salad segment and demand for bagged salads that offer fresh, varied leaves. Knox is a significant advancement for reducing waste and this extra boost to leaf quality means a better experience for consumers.”
Further to reducing waste and ensuring food security, Rijk Zwaan is addressing this by reconsidering the size of produce.
“We have a beautiful 1.5kg cabbage called Toughma RZ. A smaller cabbage means consumers can buy it whole, reducing the need and risk associated with buying cut product. It fits easily into the fridge and is ideal for feeding a family,” Frances said.
“The same principle can be applied to the smaller varieties now available in cauliflowers, watermelons and rockmelons.”
At Hort Connections 2019, Rijk Zwaan will take the opportunity to highlight local varieties that offer huge benefits for the entire chain across the crops: lettuce, melons, tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicums and eggplant.
Rijk Zwaan is aligning its sustainability activities with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. To read more visit www.rijkzwaan.com.au/sustainability