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Innovation transforms the lettuce landscape

Knox extends the shelf life of lettuce by 2 days.

Nothing beats the freshness of fresh lettuce, and fresh-cut bagged lettuce has gained considerable ground in recent years. However, the pinking on the edges poses a problem. In response to this, the breeders at Rijk Zwaan – who are continually working on innovations and improvements to existing products – set out in search of a nature-based solution. They developed a research method and tested the extent of discolouration in hundreds of lettuce heads. And then they had a breakthrough: the researchers found a plant with no discolouration even after three days. Extensive laboratory and practical tests have confirmed this unique trait.

Crossing into varieties

It appeared to be a recessive trait and breeders set to work to investigate its inheritance pattern. Once techniques such as genetic markers had provided certainty, it was time for the next step and the breeders initiated back-crossing into various lettuce types as quickly as possible. Finally, after a decade of continuous research and development, the breeders presented six varieties with the KNOX gene: Cos, Batavia, Iceberg, butterhead, Salanova® Crispy and Salanova® Butter.

A bright future for lettuce

KNOX was officially launched onto the market in September 2015 during the Rijk Zwaan Leafy Event, and the KNOX varieties were on display in the demo field in Fijnaart immediately afterwards. Visitors were very interested in the concept. All the enquiries from growers and processing companies are currently being evaluated so that widespread trials can start in 2016. Thanks to KNOX, the future of lettuce looks even brighter. Needless to say, the assortment of varieties will gradually be extended over the coming years to eventually make a KNOX version available for every favourite.

“KNOX extends the shelf life of lettuce by 2 days”

According to Bauke van Lenteren, Convenience Manager at Rijk Zwaan, KNOX responds to an important need among processors. “Thanks to KNOX, fresh-cut lettuce does not always need low-oxygen packaging. This reduces costs and gives processors more options when blending . Furthermore, it eliminates the unpleasant smell associated with opening low-oxygen packaging.” Combining the benefits for the processing industry with the advantages for retailers – better inventory management and less waste – reveals the true scope of KNOX: a more sustainable chain in which this groundbreaking innovation will hopefully stimulate consumers to purchase and hence eat lettuce more often. “After all, the KNOX benefits ultimately create a better consumer experience too.”

“Result of thorough research”

Rijk Zwaan researchers Johan Schut and Kees van Dun were closely involved in the development of KNOX. “It was a severe test of our patience sometimes. When we conducted a screening using wet filtration paper, we noticed that the exposed edges of the lettuce produced a pinkish colour upon contact. But unfortunately none of the leaf discs from our genetic material showed any deviations. We then hit on the idea that the plant might need to be a little older so we decided to use a batch of 10,000 plants grown to maturity.”

“In the test, one of the discs showed significantly less discolouration. The plant was retrieved and thankfully it produced seeds quite easily so breeding work could start soon afterwards. And the results of the first ‘bag trials’ were positive, too. The fact that it was a recessive trait made it a bit more difficult to cross it into commercial material. In order to be able to demonstrate the trait when heterozygous there was an immediate need for a genetic marker, which was a considerable challenge in view of lettuce’s large genome. Genomic breeding and bioinformatics were just starting to gain ground at that time so, supported by these disciplines, molecular biology was able to develop the marker entirely in-house.”

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Japan plans fully robotic lettuce farm by 2017

Capable of supplying 30,000 heads of lettuce a day, Japanes company Spread says its 4,800m2 ‘large-scale vegetable factory’ will be “fully automated from seeding to harvest.”

Kyoto-based firm Spread plans to open what has been dubbed the world’s first fully robotic farm.

Capable of supplying 30,000 heads of lettuce a day, the company says its 4,800m2 ‘large-scale vegetable factory’ will be “fully automated from seeding to harvest.” This complete automation of the cultivation process will slash labour costs in half, it said in a press release.

Focused on global expansion, Spread hopes to extend its production to 500,000 heads of lettuce per day in five years “and will continue to expand our vegetable factory business domestically and internationally.”

Founded in 2006, in Kameoka in Kyoto, Spread already operates what it calls the world’s largest vegetable factory using artificial lighting, which grows four types of lettuce for a total 21,000 heads per day. It provides year-round supply to about 2,000 stores in the Tokyo metropolitan area and the Kansai region via the brand “Vegetus”.

Spread produces several types of lettuce under the brand name “Vegetus” (its brand for vegetables cultivated in its vegetable factories) and says it sells them to department stores, major grocery stores, hotels, restaurant, and amusement parks around Japan.

Construction of the vertical farm – at a full investment of up to about 2 million yen (€14.6m) – is due to start in Kizugawa, Kyoto, next spring with the first shipments in summer 2017. From the estimated production capacity of 10 million heads of lettuce a year, Spread estimates annual sales of about 1 million yen.

Environmentally friendly features of the ‘next-generation’ factory are to include recycling of 98% of the water used for cultivation and a system of environmental control making the factory extremely energy efficient.

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Spain exporting more fruit, less tomatoes and lettuce

Spanish exports of fruit and vegetables were up 3.6% in volume and 3.4% in value this January compared to the last one, with a volume of 1.28 million tons and value of €1.14 million.

Spain’s orange exports lift 23% this January compared to the first month of 2014

fepex export jan figs.png
Spanish exports of fruit and vegetables were up 3.6% in volume and 3.4% in value this January compared to the last one, with a volume of 1.28 million tons and value of €1.14 million. But for vegetables alone, Spain’s exports were actually down 2% in both volume and value – to 620,219 tons and €619.4 million respectively – due to a fall in trade in the country’s main two vegetable exports: tomatoes and lettuce.

Fepex, the Spanish federation of associations of producers and exporters of fruit, vegetables, flowers and live plants, said it was concerned that both the value and volume had dropped for vegetables, “because it affects crops such as tomato and lettuce which are of major social and economic importance for the sector in Spain.”

Using Spanish government figures, Fepex estimates tomato exports were down 12.7% in volume and 6.6% in value to 136,072 tons and €152 million respectively, while lettuce was down 9.4% in volume and 2.6% in value, to 93,906 tons and €87.8 million. And while cucumber was up 11% to 98,257 tons, it was down 26% in value.

Spanish fruit exports

Fepex also reported the following export figures for this January:

  • Mandarin up 3.5% to 272 676 tons
  • Orange up 23% to 243,242 tons
  • Lemon up 12% 61,218 tons
  • Persimmon up 10% to 16,542 tons
  • Strawberry up 24% more to 8,827 tons
  • Avocado up 30% to 8,028 tons

Read Fepex press release (in Spanish)



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Fruca: 50,000 tons of melons and 110 million heads of lettuce

The Murcian group is maintaining its melon crop plans for the spring, with the aim of exporting about 50,000 tons. Meanwhile, it continues to diversify its supply, which includes 15,000 tons of Galia melons, 12,000 of the yellow variety, 7,000 Cantaloupe and 2,000 Charentais. Their piel de sapo melon exports come to just 2,000 tons of highly selected and half-size melons, between 1 and 2 kg per piece, and with more than 12º Brix. Their sole destination is Northern Europe. Their watermelon range is also one of the widest, with white seeded varieties, yellow and red fleshed, black seedless, mini blacks and whites, with or without seeds. “We supply the whole of Europe and Russia, with some going overseas to the UAE, for example,” explains their sales manager Jose Canovas. 
Their supply of lettuce comes to 110 million pieces from 2,500 ha of crops. 

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Peregrín has new 16,000 m2 facilities


Peregrín, the Agrarian Transformation Society (SAT in Spanish) based in Pulpí (Almería) that grows and sells horticultural products, has opened a new facility with 16,000 m2 of covered area. With this, the company plans to diversify its activity into other lines of business and to add new products to its range. After undertaking a major investment, the company now has modern infrastructures that enable it to continue to increase its production capacity, incorporating the latest technology throughout the building in the areas of handling, packaging, sales and offices.   Together with their lettuce specialties, which include iceberg, baby, Romaine, endive and oak leaf, as well as garlic, Peregrín’s range of produce also has radishes, pomegranates, artichokes, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach and several varieties of melon.
Peregrín have handling centers in Pulpí, Las Pedroñeras (Cuenca) and Santaella (Córdoba), and their grower partners have crops in Córdoba, Málaga, Cuenca, Almería, Murcia and Albacete. The company, which was founded by a family, has a turnover of 60 million euros and employs 400 workers. They have over 25 years’ experience in producing and distributing garlic and lettuce, although the family business dates back to the 1930s with three generations that have since taken over the running of the company. 
Commercially, they distribute their products under the Gold and La Reine brands, selling 60 million kilos, with an export percentage of 65%.
Recently, Peregrín has renewed its corporate identity with a new website and logo with the slogan Sunny Thinkin’. The website is very consumer-focused, giving tips and recipes, plus their entire catalog of products and their availability. Along with this strong multimedia commitment, some of Peregrín’s staff explain through videos how the company’s various departments operate.