COLLEGE STATION — BetaSweet, the long awaited maroon carrots developed by Texas A&M University, will be commercially sold for the first time this week as select stores in Houston receive the first shipment from the Rio Grande Valley.
“The biggest problem will be having enough,” said John Lackey, vice president of McManus Produce in Weslaco. “We have a lot of demand, but it’s going to be in short supply for the first few weeks of harvest.”
Lackey said his company, the only one currently growing the unique carrot commercially, has begun harvest on a small acreage with thin stands but has enough additional acreage still growing to be harvested throughout the rest of the year.
The BetaSweets are being harvested, sliced into coin shapes and packaged for the first shipment Saturday to Kroger’s in Houston. Wal- Mart in Temple and H.E.B. grocery stores will receive shipments in late February, Lackey said.
“And then we’ll build on it from there,” he said. “I know every one will want some.”
The maroon carrot idea dates back to 1989 when Dr. Leonard Pike, a horticulturist and director of Texas A&M University’s Vegetable Improvement Center, found some maroon-tinged carrots in his experimental plots of regular orange carrots.
“The original goal was to breed a maroon carrot that would be a novelty in the home garden of Aggies,” Pike said. Texas A&M’s school colors are maroon and white. “But the goal changed as we began breeding for high beta carotene and anthocyanins which have cancer preventive properties and are found in BetaSweet carrots.
“It has gone beyond being a novelty, though there may be some of that, too,” he said. “The popularity of the maroon carrot already just goes to show that flavor, health, nutrition and presentation are what’s important to consumers in vegetables.”
BetaSweet carrots are maroon on the outside but orange on the inside. Typically, they are sliced into medallions and served on raw vegetable trays.
Lackey said in-store tastings and human-sized carrot characters will be among the promotions surrounding the introduction of BetaSweet carrots.