RISING DEMAND for red onions has led to “feverish” activity amongst plant breeders developing new varieties, according to the National Institute for Applied Biology.

A total of 10 new varieties are being trialled this year, compared to field trials on only five varieties over the past 25 years, a NIAB spokesman said.

“In all my years at NIAB, I have never seen such a massive demand for new red onion varieties,” said vegetable consultant, Mike Day.

“Over the last 25 years we have seen no more than five new varieties. But in the last year this has grown to 10. This is a reflection of consumer demand.”

In 2004 the total red onion crop was around 50,000 tonnes, a rise of 9,000t over the past year.

Demand has been fuelled by consumers looking for more eye-catching onions in salads, TV cookery programmes and strong demand from fast food outlets, suggested NIAB.

Red Barron remains the dominant variety in the UK and delivered a particularly good harvest this year, Mr Day said.

New varieties seeded in trials include: Red Spark, BGS 185 and Red Fort from Bejo, Red Kite from Seminis, Romy from Agriseed, Kamal from Steve Howe/Advanta as well as two Australian-bred varieties, Oaklands Red and Red Marksman from ProVeg.