Bedfordshire Growers sees big sales potential for its ground-breaking new variety with reduced pungency

William Findlay (left) showing off the new variety at Fruit Logistica with his father Alastair in the background

William Findlay (left) showing off the new variety at Fruit Logistica with his father Alastair in the background

UK onion grower and breeder Bedfordshire Growers has developed a new variety of sweet red onion that it believes will open up a popular new segment of the onion category.

The hybrid variety, known as Calypso, was shortlisted for the 2024 Fruit Logistica Innovation Award. It is a sweeter alternative to traditional cultivars and lacks the sharp, spicy flavour typically associated with onions when eaten raw.

The variety’s reduced pungency means it doesn’t produce a bitter aftertaste or bad breath if eaten uncooked.

The variety’s other main advantage is that it doesn’t make you cry when you cut it, which Bedgrow claims is a world’s first for red onions.

Calypso also retains its texture and moisture when eaten either fresh or cooked. And it can be stored in a variety of environments including refrigeration and controlled atmosphere.

The variety has been successfully produced in Bedfordshire for the last three years, and trials are taking place in the US (Idaho), Spain and New Zealand. UK distribution is from October to May.

Sweet onion varieties already play an important role in the US and other overseas markets. In America, sweet onions account for around 20 per cent of total sales, but sweet varieties are only available in yellow and white onions.

“I think Calypso has massive potential in Britain, but I think we need to look beyond the UK,” Bedgrow chairman William Findlay told FPJ at Fruit Logistica 2024. “There are bigger markets out there than the UK, especially the US, but also Asia Pacific. Japan is interesting because it is a high-value, sophisticated marketplace.”

He added: “In the UK, there’s a big focus on the cost of food. It’s very hard to launch a new product in such an environment, but we do think there’s a place for it. And longer term, it could even take over the red onion industry.”

Bedgrow’s target is to get the variety into the major retailers as well as the foodservice sector, and Findlay earmarked children as a demographic with big potential.

“Many children won’t eat regular onions raw but we are finding that they prefer Calypso because they don’t have the bitter aftertaste,” he explained.

The variety was developed by William’s father, Alastair Findlay, who has grown onions on his farm in Cardington, Bedfordshire for over 40 years.

In the early 1990s, Alastair combined his passion for plant breeding and growing onions to start developing hybrid red onions. In 1994 he discovered a ”uniquely tasting” sweet red onion bulb and was inspired to breed a new hybrid like the original.

“My father has been tasting over 400 onions every year for the last 25 years in order to develop the right variety,” William said.