The research cluster crouched in the Vegepolys matrix in the Loire region spent three years working on the 'carrot pigment' project, aiming to deliver robust carrots that pack a nutritional - and colour - punch.
The three year study, that involved seed firm Vilmorin, colour supplier Diana Naturel, Angers university and the government-funded science laboratory INRA, studied: factors involved in pigmentation; the nutritional profile for carrots of 'all colours'; and the diversity of their pigments.
"Expression profiles of carrots' genes allowed us to understand the root factors behind the diversity, which then accelerated our ability to create new varieties that meet market and consumer needs for colour, taste and health," said the project cluster.
Food manufacturers' attraction for natural colours continues to balloon as the health-conscious shopper increasingly turns to foods that meet health and wellness criteria. In 2008, data from Leatherhead Food International shows natural colours made up 31 per cent of the global US$1.15bn colourings market.
But making the switch from synthetic to natural can be challenging for food manufacturers: new science that contributes to solutions could bring real gains across the supply chain.
Under the direction of Emmanuel Geoffriau from the l'Institut national d'horticulture et paysage (INHP), academia and enterprise linked up to add value to the humble carrot, produced in abundance in the country. At 557 000 tonnes of carrots harvested each year, France is the number two European producer of carrots, behind Poland.
The properties of carrots are 'vast', say the researchers: they have a variety of natural pigments for use in drinks, yoghurts, cakes; carrots with more sugar and juice levels designed for the 'american market', and strains more resistant to cold and disease that will improve productivity for european producers.
And squarely targeting the soaring popularity for foods with a health angle, the cluster underlines that carrots are rich in the minerals potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, they contain anti-cholesterol fibres, as well as carotene 'to stimulate immunity mechanisms...and to fight free radicals, to prevent cardio-vascular disease or the onset of certain cancers'.
"This project has led to new knowledge and tools to reinforce the expertise and competitivity of the firms involved. The knowledge acquired will also enable them to study other vegetables rich in pigments, such as melon, tomato, or even peppers," explained Daniel Gabillard, assistant director of research Vilmorin.