New Pepper Has Market-Changing Potential
Overgreen peppers from Syngenta are the product of a 20-year breeding program using traditional techniques. This oftentimes tedious process involves selecting peppers with the desired traits, breeding them, selecting offspring with the desired traits and repeating these steps until a stable plant emerges.
Kevin Cook, global lead of open-field pepper research and development for Syngenta, began working on the Overgreen project at its halfway point 10 years ago. “You have to be patient,” Cook says as he explains the breed, select and repeat process over a period that spanned two decades. “This is a conventionally bred product, and getting from the original concept for Overgreen to the plant we have today was a lengthy process.”
Benefits All Down the Line
Vegetable breeders develop new varieties to benefit growers, distributors/retailers or consumers. Occasionally, with a little luck and a lot of hard work, a product like Overgreen comes along with something for all three groups.
Growers can expect several advantages with Overgreen peppers. Once established in the field, the plants produce a heavy foliage cover, which protects the fruits from sunburn. In testing trials, fruits also show very good tolerance to blossom-end rot. Additionally, their thicker walls and heavier weight help reduce the bruising that often occurs during harvest and on the packing line. The most highly anticipated benefit of Overgreen to growers—the one that inspired its name—is the extraordinary length of time in which the fruits maintain their deep, dark color.
“My vision for Overgreen peppers is to change the green pepper market—from what people think green peppers should look like right down to how they eat them.”
Chlorophyll is the chemical in plants that allows them to perform photosynthesis and gives them their green color. Over time, chlorophyll degrades, causing red anthocyanin pigments to become visible and the peppers to turn red. It’s the same process that makes leaves change color in the fall.
“The reason Overgreen peppers stay greener longer than others is that every cell in them has twice the chlorophyll as a normal pepper and the chlorophyll molecules are twice as big,” Cook explains. As a result, growers have a longer window for harvesting their crop, opening new market opportunities and aiding in labor management.
The color persistence is also reason for excitement on the retail side. Overgreen peppers can hold their deep green hue for more than three weeks after harvest, giving grocery stores more time to get the peppers off the produce rack and into shopping carts.
But the most broadly experienced benefits of Overgreen will be to health-conscious consumers, who are demanding more nutrient-dense vegetables in their diets. The dark green is consistent throughout the wall of the pepper, allowing its bold color to stand out in mixed recipes. The pepper is slightly crispy, providing a unique texture. From a flavor perspective, Broadbent reports that taste panels prefer Overgreen to standard green bell peppers. People who have tasted Overgreen often describe the flavor as milder and without the sometimes sour aftertaste of a regular pepper. Broadbent’s 6-year-old daughter Lily has confirmed these results.
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Broadbent is especially happy about her daughter’s new favorite snack because of its additional health benefits. Overgreen peppers contain nearly two times more lutein—a chemical important for eye health—and vitamin A than other bell peppers.
The Road Ahead
So far, Syngenta has sold Overgreen seed to a key integrated pepper producer. Headquartered in Florida, this vegetable operation grows a variety of peppers, green beans, yellow squash, zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant and tomatoes on more than 14,000 acres of farmland and has packing and cooling facilities in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Arizona and Mexico. “They’re excellent farmers, and we’ve been working with them to gauge market acceptance and better understand yield potential and other production parameters,” says Broadbent.
Most retailers who have seen and tasted the Overgreen pepper are excited by its prospects on the broader market. Hopes of consumer acceptance remain high; and while only sales can confirm its acceptance, buyers and merchandisers appear optimistic, Broadbent notes.
Agricultural markets can be fickle, and success for any new product is never a sure thing. But Cook believes Overgreens will have more people snacking on green peppers and including them in recipes than ever before. “Once people see and taste them, I’m not sure they’ll want other green peppers anymore,” he says.