Breeders do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to vegetable selection. With access to some of the best genetics in the world, they search out new and unusual varieties, subject them to rigorous trialing and narrow the selection to the best of the best for flavor, performance and disease resistance. But as a grower, you grapple with the harder decision — how do you possibly choose from the best of the best?
In that respect, you and the breeder aren’t that different. You both want to narrow vegetable selections down to what makes the most sense for the bottom line. So take a page from the breeder’s book and follow these five guiding principles to pick the crème de la crème for your greenhouse.
If The Flavor Is There, The Demand Will Follow
Consumers first and foremost want their vegetables to taste good. Breeders use the flavor tool as a way to differentiate their products from others on the market; so should you.
“If it doesn’t taste good and it doesn’t perform well, people won’t be growing it again,” says Josh Kirschenbaum of PanAmerican Seed. “It is important to make sure consumers like the product enough that they want to grow it for several years to come.”
If The Trend Points The Way, Go Down That Path
Along with flavor, staying on top of current trends and offering products that meet that criteria keep your vegetable selections on the leading edge.
“Our market isn’t static,” says Andrew Mefferd of Johnny’s Selected Seeds. “Consumer preferences change over time. If something is trending, offer it and see where it takes you.”
One trend Mefferd says he notices lately is the popularity of snacking vegetables — anything you can pick up easily and pop in your mouth for a wallop of flavor.
To that end, Johnny’s 2015 vegetable lineup includes grab-and-go selections like ‘Clementine’ cocktail tomatoes and ‘Mexican Sour Gherkin’ miniature specialty cucumbers.
Sakata Vegetables’ Little SnapPea and Little SnowPea series fit the container trend with shorter dwarf vines that accomodate small spaces.
And for the popular foodie movement, hybrid heirloom tomatoes like PanAmerican’s Heirloom Marriage series and Johnnys’ new ‘Margold’ tomato mix great taste with better yields. Burpee Home Gardens also has a new introduction for 2016, the ‘Masterpiece’ pea, with edible pods, peas and parsley-like hyper tendrils.
Even when varieties that start out as trends migrate to the mainstream, make sure you have something to offer. For instance, Syngenta Vegetables’ new ‘Summerpick’ beefsteak tomato and ‘Bayonet’ sweet bell pepper fulfill an ever-present need for garden must-haves.
If You Have A Market For It, Run With It
Similar to following trends, Scott Mozingo at Burpee Home Gardens says to pay attention to what sells in your local market to specialize in your own area.
“Make sure you constantly tweak your assortment to keep it from getting stale by offering new varieties alongside well-known favorites,” he says.
If The Selection Is Broad Enough, Everybody Wins
Breeders try to offer vegetable lines that cover several different categories and growing conditions. That way, you can do the same for your customers.
“We service several types of customers, so we have varieties that work well for different segments,” says Tracy Lee of Sakata Vegetables. “We work with our customers to make sure they focus on only those varieties that meet the needs of their segment.”
Jeannine Bogard of Syngenta agrees, saying sales expand when growers learn how to segment and position their vegetable offerings to meet various seasonal needs and cooking styles.
If You Begin With The End In Mind, Customers Stay Happy
With vegetable selection, front-end performance in the greenhouse and back-end performance in the garden are equally important, Bogard says.
To keep customers satisfied, disease resistance, maintenance requirements and yields must factor into your decisions.
Keep in mind final plant size, as well, Lee says.
“Since you cannot use plant growth regulators (PGRs) on greenhouse vegetables, it is imperative that plants fit the container size and not get out of hand in the growing process,” she says.
When all is said and done, if your customers return year after year asking for more of your vegetable varieties, rest assured that your extra efforts will soon pay off in profits.