Under the 'Putting flavour back on the plate' initiative Hazeldene will plant more than 100 baby leaf lettuce varieties, chosen for flavour, texture, colour and shelf life, at a trial site in Lancashire.
Hazeldene, which is working with seed supplier Tozer Seeds, will invite existing and potential customers to taste the salad leaves as part of plans to bring in £4.8m of new business over the next year.
The aim of the project was to open salad buyers' eyes to the wide choice of lettuce varieties available, said Hazeldene technical director Simon Hendry. The industry had got into the habit of using quite a restricted number of leaves, he claimed.
"We can basically get out of the cupboard varieties that have been developed over the years and then just shelved because they didn't enthuse the usual suspects," he said.
The initiative would provide better-tasting leaves, not just varieties that looked good or merely bulked out ranges.
"We need to put some sparkle back into our bags," added Alec Roberts, sales and technical adviser for Tozer division Plant Solutions. "Due to a lot of price promotions, a lot of salad bags have become quite boring."
Inviting customers to the trial site would enable Hazeldene to gain feedback and tailor its crop more closely to customer needs, added Hazeldene MD Simon Ball. "That's when you can really start to understand what it is a person is looking for and potentially come up with something with the wow factor - a point of difference."
The company would also be trialling biofumigants in Lincolnshire to cut down on the need for chemical fumigation, Hendry said. It plans to surround the site with a plant called phacelia, which attracts pollinators and predators.
Part of the trial site will also be planted with caliente mustard, which releases a substance that acts to weed seeds and fungus.