Slovenian tomato grower Lust expert in marketing, breaks ground for another 2 hectare

Two years ago, a group of young horticultural entrepreneurs from Slovenia broke new ground and built a state of the art 4.1 hectare Venlo greenhouse in Renckovich, a village in the Municipality of Turnišče in the country's north-eastern Prekmurje region. The group's strategy to start growing high quality hydroponic tomatoes for the local markets turned out so well, that before the second crop cycle was finished, plans were in place for a 2 hectare expansion. Time for an interview with the guys behind 'Lust'.

Lust tomatoes are marketed as luxury tomatoes with a 'made in Slovenia with love' trademark. "Since the beginning of our plans, we knew that we had to come up with a good marketing strategy in order to distinguish ourselves from other big mass produced imports that would be our target market," said Kristjan Magdič, director of marketing at Lust. In order to do so, Lust opted to build a very modern greenhouse. "We constructed a greenhouse that required a big investment, but this was necessary in order to produce to the highest standards possible. Thanks to the greenhouse we can grow not only tomatoes which are consistent, but are also very sustainable. We can avoid pests and grow very sustainably by using biological crop protection and avoid using chemicals as much as possible."

Extra sustainability is added to the produce by using geothermal energy to the greenhouse. "We have drilled a geothermal production well with a depth 1,483 meters, which delivers water of 65 degrees Celsius. We can store the heat in a buffer that has enough capacity to heat the greenhouse at night. Only when the weather is extremely cold we have to add some additional heat coming from a conventional boiler heater. As well as this we also grow on a sustainable growing medium; cocopeat, which has many benefits for us compared with rockwool."

Currently Looije Agro Technics is working on the next 2 hectare of glass

Once the greenhouse was built, Magdič already had several marketing strategies available. But before putting the tomatoes in the package, they first ensured that they had the right tasty product to offer to the local market. They picked the right varieties with taste as another added value, something that is not quite common in large scale greenhouse operations. "We grow several varieties and are testing and experimenting with 18 other breeds. Right now we are mostly growing Brilliant (95 % of total acreage), an old TOV from De Ruiter Seeds. The Brilliant breed was very popular in the Netherlands years ago, but it is not common any more due to problems with production, and virus sensitivity. We tested other varieties amongst our customers, but they did not like newer varieties, hence we continue to grow Brilliant for now. To us the production is not an issue; we are happier when we satisfy our customers with the right taste."

The tomatoes from Lust are marketed as a premium brand in supermarkets in Slovenia and neighbouring countries. The Lust label is not only sold by Lidl, but also by more expensive luxury retailers. "From our nursery it is a 85 kms drive towards Graz, 230 km to Vienna, 280 to Budapest, 180 to Ljubljana, so we are really located on a strategic spot in between important markets. Slovenia is our main market, especially Ljubljana, but once a month a few trucks are also shipped to Hungary and Vienna."

Lust markets the biggest part of their harvest in boxes of 5 or 6 kilo. "We also did experiments with flow packaging, but our customers simply like to choose and pick their tomatoes from a cardboard box. To add extra value we put a special label on each truss by hand, so our product is still a real eye catcher in the supermarket shelves, in between the big bulky products."

Marketing a local produced, luxury TOV tomato is something many European growers have tried without success. However, the guys from Lust manage to do so. "We know that this would be difficult, but by putting in a lot of effort we succeeded", said Magdič. "It was our vision not to sell tomatoes, but to sell a feeling, an experience. We market our tomatoes something that is dedicated to Slovenia, when you eat our tomatoes, you taste Slovenia. That is our motto. As well as to this we do a lot of consumer marketing and have a Facebook page with a lot of followers. Last year we even designed our own T-shirts with the Lust logo and a funny play on words printed on it. We sold hundreds of them in a short time!".

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