By far the most lettuce that you can find in American supermarkets is grown in California and Arizona and is distributed throughout America by truck. However in Minnesota, since one year local produce has also been on the shelves. Greenhouse company Revol Greens grows spinach and various types of lettuce there and, according to Marco de Bruin - one of the owners - there's many advantages to this.
Marco came to America in 1993 and through various horticultural projects in New Mexico and Texas he ended up in Minnesota. He works for Equilibrium Capital, an investment fund that set up the lettuce project in Minnesota.
“In the design of the greenhouse we've combined the best techniques we could fine. This we we can control the production completely and easily match the quality of the outdoor grown product. Since we're selling local, we can offer a cost price that's about the same as that of the open field production, that has often been transported over a long route. And of course we can grow with a slightly better carbon footprint."
He explains how this is possible - even though the techniques being used are costly. "If you want to have a truck driving from the Salinas Valley in California, it will cost you somewhere from eight to ten thousand dollars in no time. For products like baby leaf you can only load ten thousand pounds in a truck, otherwise the quality will go down."
More control over cultivation
Another big advantage of growing lettuce in a greenhouse means that there is more control over the cultivation. “As a lettuce grower, you are constantly monitored in America, because you often have to deal with a recall. The American lettuce industry is huge and, due to the lack of transparency, the source of a contamination is often difficult to find. The disadvantage of this is that the government makes a recall for the complete product range, regardless of where it comes from. Fortunately, our customers know how we grow and continued to buy our Romaine lettuce during the last recall."
"In the greenhouse we can show exactly how the product is cultivated. In addition, we only use rainwater that is disinfected. In that respect there are huge possibilities for greenhouse horticulture to respond to that. I can imagine that especially in wet areas in Southeastern America it is complex to grow fully indoors, but lettuce is a crop that is easiest to grow in a greenhouse. We are only at the start of this development. In the future, the use of RFID tags should make it possible to show the customer where and by whom which seed was planted.”.
Expansion is ongoing! VB Group is taking care of the complete project.
From 1 to 2 to 4 hectares
Revol Greens grows spinach and various types of lettuce in a 1-hectare greenhouse. Business is going well, and expansion is imminent. "Retailers are growing and upscaling is a must to be an interesting partner. Our partners are not interested in a few boxes a week. They prefer one or two trailers per week. As a grower, you simply need more square meters."
This expansion was already taken into account during construction of the first phase of the enterprise. The processing hall and technical applications were already based on a four-hectare greenhouse.
“This makes for a fairly cost-efficient expansion, which means that we can offer our products at a somewhat reduced price. A new way of financing through Equilibrium enables us to build greenhouses faster. The investor retains the greenhouses and leases them back to the operational company. This way we remain at the helm, a big advantage when compared to using private equity or venture money.”
Revol Greens products at Owattona Public Schools
Lettuce for students
The customers or Revol Greens are diverse. First of all, sales partners help getting their product to retailers and food service suppliers. In addition, the company recently started supplying to universities and schools in the region, where the lettuce finds its way to the student via ‘salad bars’. This is a growing market, says Marco. “You will find the younger generation at schools and universities, between the ages of 18 and 22. They are very picky about their food and strive for a healthy lifestyle. In addition, there are various promotional campaigns going on at high schools to encourage people to buy local food. Moreover, the schools in this region are large. The University of Minnesota, for example, can be called a city in itself with around 32,000 students."
For more information:
Marco de Bruin