How do breeders work together with other links in the chain to create a new product? What is the value of 'taste' and how much influence does the consumer have in the process? Maarten van der Leeden of Rijk Zwaan, Perry Kuilboer of Bejo Seeds and Frank van Antwerpen of Syngenta had their say.

Short line with consumer
An example of collaboration between a breeder, grower and retailer is the Crunchy Cos concept of Rijk Zwaan, which was recently introduced via online retail channel HelloFresh. The lettuce variety is a cross between iceberg and romaine lettuce. According to Maarten van der Leeden, it was the first time the breeder collaborated with HelloFresh to bring a new product to market. The partnership worked well.

Crunchy Cos grower Jos Sweep and Wim in 't Groen and Maarten van der Leeden from Rijkzwaan.

"We chose this approach because of the short line between HelloFresh and the consumers. As a result, you get faster feedback." But the design of the HelloFresh concept also played a role. "We need to track changes in consumer behaviour, such as e-commerce," continues Maarten. "The whole online supply chain looks different because you actually cut out the physical retail. This requires a different way of dealing with fresh produce.”

Collaboration depends on the product
With specialities, cooperation with the retail is easier than with bulk products. Frank van Antwerpen: "The retailers want to distinguish themselves, and specialities allow them to do that. However, this varies per chain. The fact that a product is introduced to a retailer, doesn’t mean that large volumes are needed. Often a retailer starts with a product in selected stores or in a distribution centre.”

"But it starts further up the chain,” says Frank. “You must first have a grower who wants to cultivate the breed. That’s the beginning. Today we look more at the end of the chain: who will buy the product? That requires continuous collaboration with everyone involved in the chain.” Besides grower, retailer and consumer, there’s also a role for the transport sector. Although this sector is generally not involved with the breeder directly, it is involved in beforehand issues like: how many products will fit into a shipment?

Consumer not always right
Although this seems like a complicated process, in which many interests must be taken into account, Perry Kuilboer puts things in perspective. Consumer preferences can change quickly, he states, so not every hype is translated into a new variety. Companies are often concerned with short-term problems that are not necessarily shaped into a new product.

"Consumer information is very relative. I once said in a presentation that the consumer has no choice, he can only choose what is offered by retail or catering. Of course we do use consumer panels for the taste, but that is at a later stage."

Frank van Antwerpen adds that consumers do not always know what they want. "So we must sometimes make assumptions. However, we do see trends, and if I have learned one thing, it’s that people like tasty food. If the taste is good, the consumer keeps coming back."