Broccoli, the original superfood, is getting an upgrade.
On top of the Vitamin C, Vitamin K, protein, dietary fiber, and slew of other nutrients found in a typical stalk of broccoli, Monsanto says its Beneforté broccoli will do you even better. It’s bred to have higher levels of a nutrient that your body uses to fight cancer and cholesterol. As Monsanto’s website for the super-broccoli puts it, “Beneforté is even more of a good thing.”
Beneforté seeds were first sold in 2010 and the packaged broccoli arrived in supermarkets in the UK and US in 2011. It’s on sale in the UK in 10 grocery chains, and though it’s not currently available in the US because of a gap in supply, Monsanto expects it to be widely available in 2017.
Broccoli may seem out of step with Monsanto’s corn- and soy-heavy business, but it’s right in line with shifting consumer preferences for healthier, less processed foods. For the year ending June 2015, US unit sales of soft drinks were down 2% and units sold of ready-to-eat cereals were down 4%, while fresh produce sales were up 2% by volume, according to data from Nielsen. Companies like General Mills and PepsiCo are trying to lure customers back with revamped products like all-natural Trix and aspartame-free Diet Pepsi.If they succeed, so does Monsanto. Its patented genes are in the vast majority of corn and soy grown in the US. But if they don’t—if the trend towards more fresh vegetables and fewer packaged foods continues—well, Monsanto, which has made billions on the ingredients for processed food, is preparing for that, too. And this time it’s doing it without a genetically-modified organism in sight.
Beneforté is no pet project. Since 2005, Monsanto has spent more than $2 billion acquiring two major vegetable and fruit seed companies. That includes Seminis, the world’s largest seller of vegetable seeds, which licensed Beneforté from its original developers in the UK, the John Innes Centre and the Institute of Food Research.
While Monsanto’s 2014 net sales of vegetable seeds, at $867 million, were a fraction of what it sold in seeds and traits for corn ($6.4 billion) and soybeans ($2.1 billion), according to the company’s SEC filing, Monsanto is building a robust division nonetheless. In 2014, it included 21 vegetable crops sold in more than 150 countries, allowing the company to slowly inch its way out of the center of the grocery store and into the world’s ever busier outer aisles.
Nor is this just about capturing the most lucrative and discerning broccoli-eaters: The company is setting its sight on global vegetable domination. “A big part of our focus is expanding the geographic scope of production in order to achieve a global market,” Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, told Quartz. It’s testing several different seeds to make sure Beneforté can grow year-round, in different regions depending on the season, to make for a consistent product that is available everywhere, all the time. It doesn’t want Beneforté to be the Champagne of broccoli; it wants it to be the Coca-Cola of broccoli. If anyone can achieve that with a vegetable, it’s Monsanto.MORE