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Food innovation: the Knox lettuce trait


Man inspecting Knox cos lettuce in field

Innovation is one of Bakkavor’s key values. We thrive on new challenges and are always looking for inventive ways to grow and improve our business further. Sometimes this involves coming up with a clever machine modification that saves 300 litres of water per hour. Other times it involves lettuce. Yes, lettuce.

Cos lettuce is very important to our business. It’s sweet, it has a fantastic texture, it’s the main constituent of the iconic Caesar Salad and we use over 1 million kgs of it each year. But while popular, the lettuce had historically been problematic due to the fact it tended to discolour on cut surfaces (a process also known as pinking). This led to customer complaints, reduced shelf life and levels of waste.

Delayed discolouration

Still there was nothing anyone could do about this, right? Wrong. We have a long-established relationship with international seed company Rijk Zwaan and challenged its team to improve the shelf life of fresh cut salad leaves by developing a non-discolouring Cos lettuce. Rijk Zwaan was up for the challenge and managed to identify a natural gene that confers delayed cut surface discolouration.

Prototype and commercial testing

When the first prototype lettuces featuring this new trait were produced, Bakkavor was Rijk Zwaan’s first partner to run tests and prove the shelf life benefit, with our data indicating that the trait could increase shelf life by at least two days.

The trait was subsequently named Knox, and when it was deemed ready to be used in a commercial environment we were again the first partner to put it through its paces. Our commercial trials were an instant success, with in-store waste levels and customer complaints reducing significantly. Since then, we’ve continued the project at pace.

“We believe the Knox Cos delivers opportunities and benefits to consumers, retailers and our factories,” says Bakkavor’s Customer Produce Manager, Clare Foy. “So, in addition to rolling the project out to the point where we’re maintaining supply of Knox Cos all year round, we’ve become the first food producer to commercially grow it in Spain. The next step is to incorporate the trait and its benefits into our full range of lettuce types, and we’re due to begin trials of Knox Apollo soon.”





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