Tozer Seeds opened its doors last week to more than 20 vegetable breeding programmes at its two Surrey trial sites and stressed that improved eating quality can co-exist with ability to cope with the unpredictable British climate.
Jamie Claxton, director of plant breeding, said: "We're the only breeder of runner beans in the world and they are well adapted to our cool, damp conditions. But sales are in decline."
The firm has had success cross-breeding runner beans with French beans, yielding two white-flowered varieties with a smooth outer texture and succulent innards. 'Moonlight' and the more recent 'Stardust' were said by Claxton to offer excellent taste and pod setting, resulting in yields twice as high as other varieties.
"They're being trialled in east Africa with a view to replacing existing varieties," Claxton explained. "'Stardust' may be too long for supermarkets, but it's great for home growers."
Product development manger for baby leaves Alec Roberts said supermarkets were also expressing more interest in seasonal leaf crops. He suggested a mix of tender brassica leaves would provide an attractive stir-fry option. "They don't need to be boiled to death, but have to get to a certain size before you see the rib colour," he said.
Trials at Tozer's Ockham ground also showed choi sum, a smaller relative of pak choi, to be a promising baby leaf, he added.
Tozer has been developing varieties that are eye-catching, flavoursome and able to cope with the imperfect light levels of the typical British summer.
"Waitrose is interested in named varieties such as our yellow 'Sunstripe' courgette that have a story to tell," said Tozer Seeds plant breeding director Jamie Claxton.