The concept of marketing "living lettuce with roots" grown in a hydroponic system is still relatively unknown in Spain, compared with traditional lettuce, although demand is starting to grow, according to Carlos Menchaca, of the marketing department of the company Endinava, a Navarra-based producer of this type of lettuce.
"At Endinava, we are specialised in growing living lettuce, namely of the Batavia, Red Oak Leaf and multicolour trio varieties. It is a new concept which, thanks to the hydroponic system, allows us to obtain three different varieties of lettuce in one, such as Lollo Bionda, Lollo Rosso and Red Oak Leaf, which we supply mainly to supermarket chains," he explains.
"Moreover, we are launching a new variety in the market called Trocadero Duo; a lettuce with growing demand from the catering sector and from greengrocers. It is delivered in a cork box with water, with four red and four green pieces of lettuce. Customers appreciate having access to a fresh product with a shelf life of three to four weeks and without any loss in organoleptic qualities or nutrients. With it, it is no longer necessary to go to the market every day to buy fresh produce and waste is also minimised, thus solving one of the most severe problems in this sector."
According to Carlos Menchaca, consumers in this segment mostly demand fresh cut lettuce, although "that cannot be compared with a living product like this. Conventional lettuce dehydrates faster. Also, due to it no longer being in contact with the soil, there is more microbiological activity and this accelerates the wilting of the outer leaves, which consumers end up discarding. Hydroponic lettuce is used almost fully, as the living roots keep moisture levels in the leaves, and it is also environmentally-friendly, since it only uses the water it needs. There is no water waste and this entails great sustainability," he affirms.
"We do not compete in terms of price with conventional lettuce, which is subject to weekly oscillations depending on the levels of supply and demand. We set an annual price, carry out consumption estimates and we plant four or five months in advance before the harvest," he added.
The consumers targeted by this type of lettuce are especially people who appreciate quality and freshness in a product, as well as environmental sustainability. In Spain, consumers are still sceptical about this type of lettuce compared to the rest of Europe, since it is generally more expensive than traditional lettuce; however, Carlos assures that "as knowledge about this product and its benefits increases, we see growing demand and consumer loyalty."
"Since we launched this exciting project four years ago, we have been researching, together with our seed suppliers, to find out what consumers are most interested in. We have managed to control all cycles. Now we know what varieties we have to plant and at what time. We have become specialists in the production of this type of lettuce."
"In recent months, we have been working on a new packaging format and we are sure it will be greatly successful amongst consumers, since it gives the lettuce an even longer shelf life than the current bag."
The challenge of exporting with high logistics costs
According to Carlos Menchaca, exporting is still challenging for now, as it is hard to be competitive given the high logistics costs, which increase the final price by between 20 and 25%, as it is a light product compared with other vegetables or perishables.
"We are now opening export lines with major European importing companies which charter their own full trucks without groupage and more competitive prices. Since we are based near Irun, we can make use of the routes connecting Almeria and Murcia with Central Europe. It will be the only way for us to market our products in other countries in the short term."
The Middle East, an interesting gap to fill
"We have carried out tests in Scandinavia, France and Germany and we are now focusing our efforts in the Middle East, where we can fill the market gap left by the local productions in summer due to the high temperatures, as in Syria and Egypt. When lacking local production, these countries usually import from the Netherlands by air," he explains.
"Our goal is to export by sea, because of the product's long shelf life, and to expand our international sales. We strive to supply a quality and competitively priced lettuce; however, these markets are used to consuming other types of lettuce, so we believe that their introduction will require hard work from us."
Paseo de la Presa s/n
31589 Sartaguda (Navarra) - Spain
T: +34 948 66 70 48
M:+34 608 634 email@example.com www.endinava.com