In October 2000, Heinz released green ketchup. Now, Duda Farm Fresh Foods of Oviedo has another play on food coloring that the company is hoping will be a much bigger success: red celery.
The celery, which is a cross between regular celery and celeriac, or celery root, has been in development since 1991.
"We were brainstorming our long-range objectives, trying to think of something that would appeal to the consumer," said Larry Pierce, horticulturist and Duda's manager of celery seed research. "We thought about celery, and we thought about white at first, but then we looked into the genetics and discovered celery root, which has red coloring. So red became our option."
The process of creating red celery, which is part of Duda's heirloom line, began by cross-pollinating regular celery with the celery root by hand.
When the corresponding offspring grew, Pierce's team looked for plants that had the characteristics they were looking for, then isolated and bred them, continuing the process by comparing the next generations to their list of standard characteristics, again looking for plants that had the characteristics they preferred.
This went on for several years, with Pierce and his team further refining their plant lines until they achieved a product that they felt was suitable for the market.
Unlike domestic celery, which has a mild flavor, celery root, its eastern European cousin, has a strong, bitter taste - a challenge Pierce and his team had to overcome.
"One of our biggest challenges was getting the red celery to taste like regular celery," Pierce said. "It took us 19 years of select breeding to isolate plants that had the characteristics we were looking for, with the taste and texture of regular celery. It was a slow, careful and painstaking process that took a lot of effort and time."
While the antioxidants of red celery differ from its green relative, the taste and texture of red celery is exactly the same.
"You can eat it any way you would green celery," Pierce said. "The nice thing about red celery is that it does not lose its color in cooking," Pierce said. "It starts and it finishes red.
"You can eat it and cook it like regular celery, but it's a more exciting color option."
Red celery, the first in Duda's Celery Sensations line, which debuted Oct. 16 at the Produce Marketing Association's annual Fresh Summit Trade Show in Orlando.
On Dec. 1, red celery will make its consumer premiere in select test markets in the Northwest, Southwest and West Coast.
Based on response in those areas, it will go nationwide in June. Test supermarkets are yet to be determined, as is packaging and pricing.
As far as consumer reaction goes, Pierce hopes it will be positive.
"So far the response has been considerable," Pierce said. "People are excited. They want to see where they can get it. The color is exciting, and children will be excited about eating vegetables because of it. A lot of us get excited by color when we shop, and red celery adds color and natural crunch. We are hoping consumers will find it an appealing celery alternative and give celery a try."
"We are so excited to unveil our red celery," said Dan Duda, president and chief operating officer of Duda Farm Fresh Foods. "It has the same great, crisp, fresh flavor as regular celery with added crunch that consumers like so much. We are confident its superior quality, great taste and vibrant color will build incremental category sales."
For Duda Farm Fresh Foods, celery is one of its top products.
With its headquarters in Oviedo and operations throughout the U.S., Duda Farm Fresh Foods is a major grower, shipper and marketer of fresh citrus and fresh-cut vegetables, with primary locations in Florida, California, Arizona, Georgia and Michigan.