In total, the group, led by chief executive officer Martin Evans, produces more than 40,000 tonnes of carrots a year and controls more than 90 per cent of the Chantenay market.
Chantenay was once the mainstay of UK carrot production, grown for its flavour and sweetness. It was in time, however, replaced by the Nantes-type carrot because of the former's then low yield, disease-prone nature, poor storage ability, unattractive look and poor genetics. In its quest for a carrot that "tasted as they used to", Freshgro searched the world but ended up where it started in terms of flavour with the Chantenay - but with plenty of questions.
Harvesting Chantenay as a baby meant a better-looking product, but it tasted like a Nantes, lacked colour, had no yield and was inconsistent. So Freshgro used a combination of techniques to achieve the product it wanted including a breeding programme to downsize the root, alter the eye, make them more uniform, keep the flavour and improve the marketable yield. Agronomy techniques were based around improving plant health, especially in controlling cavity spot.
Cultivation and drilling techniques meant that workshops were active in building drills and cultivators that would provide the base for precision growing while washing and handling equipment had to be designed, built and tried to ensure success.
The co-operative, which has a farming base of more than 20,000 acres and produces a variety of root crops for major retailers, has continued to develop the Chantenay market since it first brought the carrot back to the table, with the latest innovations being the introduction of purple and white Chantenay varieties.
In September last year purple Chantenay carrots grown by Freshgro and supplied into Waitrose by the Produce World Group and Huntapac went on sale offering a product that is rich in anthocyanins, a group of antioxidants, as well as the vitamin A and beta-carotene provided by ordinary carrots. Unlike other vegetables, the purple colour is retained throughout cooking.
New Spitalfields Market is the premier horticultural market in the UK and provides an excellent platform for businesses in fresh produce to develop and thrive. The market offers a traditional backdrop to the large range of fresh fruit and vegetables available through the seasons.