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Putting the carrot on a pedestal

The carrot is one of the most important food crops in the world. Carrots are on the plates of virtually every citizen in the world almost daily. It’s therefore no surprise that seed improvement companies put so much energy into this crop. For Bejo Zaden, the carrot is the number one crop. During their open days, they organised a symposium on flavour, health, markets, marketing, innovations and natural improvements. 

Hotcarrot, carrotdog...?

Top ten
Globally, carrots are in the top ten of food crops. In trendsetting the US it’s in fifth place, behind potatoes, onions, tomatoes and lettuce. The carrot is versatile and can be used in all kinds of dishes, from starter to dessert and even in drinks. In America, Bejo is still experiencing a rising consumption of the crop under influence of the health trend, as is the case with kale and spinach. It’s remarkable that carrots are competing with sausages. They have been offered as ‘carrot hots,’ instead of hot dogs, and carrot-orange ice has also been spotted.

As a seed producer, Bejo invests in research, improvement and seed production improvement at the very beginning of the supply chain, although they also have feelers on the market. Danielle Bruin, Marketing & Communication Advisor of Bejo Zaden gave a glimpse into the global carrot market and consumption trends during the symposium. While we just bought a bag of carrots in the past, we now find carrots in all kinds of packaging, and there’s a versatile supply in both the snack and the convenience segment. Bejo works with Wageningen University to be a front runner in the field of flavour. The so-called snack varieties, such as the Mokum variety, for example, are all flavourful and they are also all becoming increasingly more popular, according to Danielle. 

Bejo is also working on colourful varieties because consumers also buy with their eyes. The colours white (White Satin), yellow (Mello Yello) and purple (Purple Sun) are all on the market commercially in addition to the mixed colour variety Rainbow. At the symposium, Bejo also presented the red variety Red Sun, which complements the colour palette in carrots.

Grimmway Farms
John Guerard from Grimmway Farms and California Carrot Production grows and processes carrots in the US. They’ve also seen colours becoming more important, especially to be processed into snack carrots in bags. But ‘coloured bunched carrots’ are also very popular in the US. “Consumers associate these with being fresher,” John explains. The juice industry is also interested in colour, they want to produce red and purple carrot juices. However, red carrots are still difficult to produce. “It can be done in the desert, but water is naturally a problem there.”

For the production of snack carrots, which Grimmway Farms started in 1980, they use the Imperator variety. These are long, cylindrical carrots that can be easily cut into pieces of the same length. The peel of these carrots can’t be too thick as the entire carrot is used.

Besides colourful carrots, Grimmway has also seen demand for organic carrots increasing considerably. That’s not because more organic carrots are consumed, but because supermarkets ask for them. They’ve also seen a demand for branded products. Grimmway Farms responds to that by offering carrots in packaging with labels such as ‘manually harvested,’ ‘organic,’ or ‘fresh from the field.’

The Japanese carrot market has its own dynamics. Takahiro Kumano, representative director sales Bejo Japan said it’s wise to be aware of the genetic history of the carrot. Both European and Eastern varieties are popular in Japan.

The Japanese prefer stir-frying carrots and don’t like bright colours. In supermarkets, jumbo carrots are sold in vacuum sealed bags of three, but also loose in ‘flavouring packs’ with carrot and garlic. Additionally, there’s a diverse supply in the convenience segment as part of stir-fry vegetable mixes or in ready-made meals.

A carrot a day…
Health and its relationship to food is becoming an increasingly important social item. It’s well-known that vegetables are healthy and should be eaten more, but doctors also promote eating vegetables more and more. Richard de Leth has a medical background and wrote a book, Oersterk. He studied nutrition in relation to the diseases of civilisation and the happiness of people. He discovered a very clear relation between lifestyle, well-being and eating vegetables. Richard exaggerates: “A carrot a day keeps the doctor away.”

After all, like many other vegetables, carrots contain fibre, the ‘secret healthy ingredient.’ Fibre plays a crucial role in the digestive process. Fibres from vegetables, and not whole grain fibres from bread products, are important food for your intestinal bacteria. Richard explains that your body is an ecosystem of cells that are working together. Bacterial cells in your intestines are an integral part of this. Substances produced by your intestinal bacteria from vegetable fibres boost or inhibit hormonal processes in your body. Richard even considers intestinal bacteria as a kind of ‘second brain.’ He compares people to puppets. Hormones are pulling on the strings. They make sure you feel satisfied, happy or tired. The food given to your intestinal bacteria is therefore directly influencing your subconscious.

Richard even takes it one step further, because your intestinal bacteria doesn’t just influence your well-being, it also affects your surroundings. Richard quotes a scientific study that says obesity can be compared to a contagious disease. The study shows that the chance of obesity is larger for people that have obesity in their circle of friends. It is even so large that it’s more like the spreading of a common cold than a change in social acceptance (changes of social standards and values).

Richard considers it his mission to combat this ‘contagious disease’ caused by an affluent society by explaining the principles to as many people as possible, and by encouraging people to eat carrots and other vegetables. The bad news is that our society constantly offers temptations in the shape of convenience and easily digestible food. The good news is that when people realise their intestines need vegetable fibres and start eating more of them, a positive effect can be seen after as few as 24 hours. The amount of vegetables people need to keep their body and hormonal processes in balance is at least 500 grammes per day, according to Richard.

During the carrot symposium, the seed-technological programme and the matter of test locations of Bejo’s carrot seeds also came up for discussion. Last year, Bejo introduced B-Mox, which lets seeds sprout more powerfully, and gives plants a stronger start. This has a positive influence on the further development of the carrots and results in more uniformity.

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