3 years ago

The Partnership no. 13

  • Text
  • Enza
  • Tomatoes
  • Partnership
  • Zaden
  • Tomato
  • Biodiversity
  • Melon
  • Varieties
  • Flavour
  • Consumer

Botes: “Shelf-life is

Botes: “Shelf-life is a broad term. For leafy crops, shelflife includes retained sturdiness, colour, smell and flavour, for instance. The quality of each of these parameters gradually deteriorates as soon as the product is harvested. The extent and the speed at which this happens is determined by a complex range of factors, such as the cultivation conditions, the storage temperature and the micro-climate surrounding the product, particularly the humidity, the oxygen concentration and the presence of certain gases such as ethylene. These aspects form a delicate balance for processed products.” Early screening A variety is only as good as its worst characteristic. This also applies to shelf-life, particularly for fresh cut leafy products. Therefore, it is important to gain insight into this at an early stage. “The phenomenon of shelflife is especially interesting to us, as good genetics can play an important role in improving shelf-life. Thanks to our expanding knowledge of plant genomes and the advancing market technology, our breeders and scientists are able to screen new crossbreeds for shelflife characteristics more quickly and at an earlier stage. This makes the breeding and selection process a lot more efficient. It also ensures that we can offer our customers well-substantiated advice about the appropriate varieties, depending on their wishes and options.” Lab and practice As you might expect from a broad and complex concept such as shelf-life, the investigations into this concept are also broad. “Our objective is to compare varieties under circumstances that correspond to the reality of the fresh chain,” says Post-harvest Researcher Anne Marie Schoevaars. “To achieve this, we need to recreate in a standardised manner the circumstances to which the products are exposed in practice. Relevant questions in this context include: which forms of processing take place and when, to which temperature regimens is the product exposed, how is the product packaged and how long must the product retain its flavour, colour, smell and texture? We can only really evaluate our varieties once we are certain that we have accurately recreated the practical situation. Consumers and chain partners are also involved in this process.” Post-harvest USA Before Schoevaars started working in Enkhuizen, she spent ten years on post-harvest research at the subsidiaries in France and the United States. Sandra Escribano followed in her footsteps in America, bringing innovations to the table. “It is fascinating work,” says Escribano. “We examine many different parameters, which all need to be measured and recorded in a standardised manner. We use specific measuring instruments to monitor the changes in colour, concentrations of sugars, acids and dry matter, the texture and the stability of the cell walls. In addition, we ask consumer panels to evaluate the taste and the smell of the product, if possible, at various points in the shelflife course. In order to promote objectivity, we work with sensory profiles wherever possible, within which the consumers make their choices.” Customised research According to Escribano, Enza Zaden has made real progress in the breeding of crops such as rocket salad, lettuce and basil thanks to this thorough research methodology. “The focus is slightly different in the United States compared to Europe or other parts of the world. Both our direct customers and American retailers expect custom work. This is why we offer customised research. It makes my work even more fun, because it places me in direct contact with the market parties that are interested in our varieties. Due to the – on average – long logistics lines, the bar for shelf-life has always been high. In America, a pre-packaged salad has to last two weeks without any problems. In Europe, the limit is usually around seven days.” Three locations That does not necessarily mean that an American salad is better than a European salad, or vice versa. It does mean that the scientists need to take into consideration the differences between regions and between customers. Different shelf-life requirements of course demand different variety portfolios. A shelf-life analysis of fresh cut leafy products is currently taking place in the United States and France. This will also start in the Netherlands in 2018. “In Enkhuizen, the focus will be on the development of selection tools for the breeders,” explains Schoevaars. “Ultimately, we want to test each variety in all the product groups for shelf-life, before the variety continues to the next phase in the selection and introduction process.” Clear progress Ian Botes is very satisfied with the progress in the shelflife analysis in recent years. In addition to the crops mentioned by Escribano, he thinks that good progress has also been made for butterhead lettuce. “This research is crucial in several ways,” he notes. “Firstly, it offers the breeders and selectors a firmer grasp on the targeted and efficient improvement of the varieties. This is already yielding results in various product groups. In addition, this is a very valuable instrument for the commercial support of our chain partners. Thanks to our input, the fresh chain will make a better-substantiated selection of varieties and consumers can buy freshly cut leafy products that are just that bit better and tastier.” 16 | The Partnership

The importance of the appropriate bag Over the years, the processors of leafy crops have developed several methods to extend the shelf-life of their products. These vary from additives – such as chlorine – in the water used for washing the crops to slow down the growth of micro-organisms, to macro-perforated bags to allow replenishment of air and controlled removal of moisture, to micro-perforated packages that naturally creates a protected gas condition (low oxygen, high carbon dioxide) to prevent quality reduction. Excellent collaboration “We want to recreate the practical circumstances in the best possible way,” says Post-harvest Researcher Anne Marie Schoevaars. “We have asked the Dutch subsidiary of Amcor (one of the largest packaging company in the world, ed.) to help us in determining which packaging would be best to use. This was an excellent collaboration and has resulted in the selection of four different test packages that we will use at the test locations.” Four standard packaging options Stefan van Oostrum and Luuk Janssen were involved in the selection process on behalf of Amcor. They also felt that it was a very successful and informative collaboration. “We have been supplying (microperforated) packaging materials to processors for about 30 years and we have hundreds of variations in use all over the world,” says Janssen. “Seed companies offer us the possibility to focus on the whole chain. It was fun to deliver a custom-made product for them.” Van Oostrum adds: “Enza Zaden asked us to select a limited number of packaging materials from the many options that are available, which would be suitable for shelf-life analysis of processed leafy crops. In addition, these packaging options had to represent what was currently available on the market.” Following meetings and small-scale trials at the various test locations, the broad pre-selection initially made by Amcor was whittled down to the four standard packaging options which started to be used in 2017. “Our research methods are now completely in line with market standards and up-to-date,” a satisfied Schoevaars concludes. The Partnership | 17

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