Although it doesn't have one eye and one horn, nor does it fly and eat people, there's a new purple produce item being marketed that has Edinburg, Texas-based J&D Produce singing along with the 1950s Sheb Wooley pop-music classic, "The Purple People Eater."
Leonard M. Pike, Ph.D., originally bred the purple hybrid carrot to match the maroon and white colors of Texas A&M University, where he was stationed in the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center. But it didn't take long for Pike to understand that he had something a little more valuable on his hands than a vegetable display of school pride.
He discovered that the new carrots he'd created tasted sweeter than their regular orange-colored brethren. And further, the maroon carrots have added nutritional benefits. They contain more vitamin A—one medium 56-g carrot offers 170 percent of the RDI—and 40 percent more beta-carotene.
When J&D, which buys produce from growers throughout the Rio Grande Valley, got wind of the discovery, it decided to market the non-GM carrots. It has been doing so for three years, and according to a company spokesman, the third generation is more uniform in size, shape and color, while remaining more slender and juicier than normal carrots. Maroon carrots are currently distributed to most U.S. states as well as Canada.
Overcoming consumer ignorance was the most difficult obstacle to developing a demand for the new product. J&D has posted recipes on its Web site that include the product, such as Maroon Carrots and Cilantro Soup. It also recommends to its retail clients that they not merchandise the product next to beets; customers might assume that maroon carrots come from simply crossbreeding carrots and beets.
"It's taken some time, but I think with anything new you've got to educate the people," said a company spokesman, who also pointed out that sales had increased by about 50 percent in the past year. "We've [been able to do] that with point-of-sale information and other education campaigns."
Shane Starling is a contributing writer for Functional Foods & Nutraceuticals.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 3/p. 1