Everyone knows Santa’s favourite reindeer, Rudolph, has a red nose, but if farmer Steven Jack’s plans go well, snowmen across the country may soon be sporting red noses too.
Steven, was one of the first farmers to start producing organic carrots in Scotland. At NessGro he farms some 600 acres of land along the Moray Firth coastline, where his main crops are carrots and potatoes which are sold exclusively to Marks and Spencer.
He’s been at the forefront of efforts to extend the UK carrot-growing season for some time, particularly the baby carrot variety, and also pioneered the production of multicoloured carrots in the UK seeing them grown in the US as part of his Nuffield Farming Scholarship.
He’s already grown golden and purple-coloured carrots, but his latest innovation has seen red carrots being included in his multi-coloured carrot packs which have been flying off the shelves.
“Why should a carrot be orange – that is the question,” said Steven, 49.
“There were a number of different colours many, many years ago but subsequently the orange carrot was bred and improved upon in terms of taste and colour and that’s why we’ve all become accustomed to seeing an orange carrot. However, all the breeding and selection has gone into improving those varieties at the expense of other types of other coloured carrots until recently.”
“I’ve been absolutely amazed at how well the multi-coloured packs have been selling. These carrots all have quite a subtle taste difference but in terms of health characteristics, each colour of carrot carries a different story but the biggest benefit is that these carrots add a fantastic splash of colour, not just to supermarket shelves but to the plate.
“Multi-coloured carrots are a great way of getting kids to eat veg. Children don’t have this perception that carrots must be orange so this encourages them to give it a try. On their own, the change is fairly small, but if it can encourage kids to see carrots as a snack then that can only be a good thing.
“Carrots and potatoes, as a traditional meal option, is a fairly stable sector, but the snacking sector is absolutely huge. If we could get 2 or 3% from the vegetable snack market then that’s a big incentive for us.”
At the NessGro site, near Dalcross, some 200 acres are dedicated to carrots with around 8,000 tonnes of carrots grown each year. Carrots are grown out in the fields rather than in polytunnels and have to be able to withstand high and low temperatures as well as waterlogging. When the frost comes, they are protected from the elements by being covered with straw.
“As a business we have always, over the years, tried to grow and develop as an innovator. In the past, there might have been different varieties and shapes but what I’ve had to establish is to whether we can grow them in the north of Scotland. Before going to a customer and saying we want to launch a product, we have to be confident that we can supply it year round and that the crop is suitable for the soil, climate and can withstand a Highland winter.”
At this time of year, a dedicated team of NessGro staff are busying harvesting, washing and packing the vegetables on site, before they are delivered into supermarkets on a daily basis. “I get a real sense of pride knowing that no matter which M&S store I go into that I see Highland produce on sale.
“It’s also important for Highland businesses to realise it’s worth striving to supply the UK marketplace. It’s something we’ve very proud of to be able to see our ideas and produce in shops across the UK.”
However, of late, there’s been another hot topic in the Jack household.
“My niece was pretty concerned as to what colour of carrot – orange, yellow, purple or red – she should leave out for Rudolph,” said Steven. “The plan is to leave some of the multi-pack then hopefully we’ll get some feedback as to which one Rudolph preferred.”
While the red ones may help give Santa’s top reindeer’s nose a healthy glow, giving a snowman a red carrot nose would make it look more festive. Watch this space – maybe this time next year red carrots for reindeer and snowmen will be a must.