The Teens concept was introduced last year to respond to the customers’ demand for convenience. The lettuce leaves that could be turned into a salad in no time at all, the Teens concept attracted the attention not just amongst customers. "Just like babyleaf, Teens can be grown in a fully automated system," says Simon Willemen of Hortiplan. "However, since we do not harvest loose leaves, we can reduce the cost price, increase flexibility and reach up to 100 kg/m²/year." This year, the Belgian company expects to realise several cultivation systems. "We are responding with a new product to an existing demand. We see that the market is ready for it”.
Thinking back from the final product
The Teens-concept has been designed from the final product’s point of view. The demand for safely grown convenience products is growing and consumers like to buy loose lettuce leaves, which means that this is the product that has to be offered. In automated cultivation systems on moveable gutters, lettuce products can be grown at an optimum density and almost entirely automatically, with maximum use of sunlight and without the use of crop protection. That's what it's all about and the basis of Hortiplan's mobile gutter system didn't have to be changed much.
However, for the cultivation a different path had to be taken: the Teens are not grown as loose leaves, but as small heads of lettuce. By cutting them just above the growing point, they fall apart loosely. "Because you harvest from a more mature plant, the leaves are firmer and crispier, with more flavour and a better shelf life," says Simon Willemen, business developer of Hortiplan. "We have also seen that there are many different varieties available that fit into the Teens concept. That way, you can make a mixed salad on one farm and be flexible in putting it together according to your own wishes”.
Higher yield, lower costs
Those are the advantages for both consumers and retailers. For the grower, these kinds of advantages are usually nice - but the cultivation also has to be considered. Simon Willemen of Hortiplan explains that babyleaf is sown at high densities and harvested after 24 to 25 days, weighing about 15 grams. "Teens grow up to 80 grams, so you can harvest 80-100 grams in 35 days. The production is therefore slightly higher. And because we sow at much lower densities and let it grow out much faster, you need less seed than with babyleafs. In addition to your seed costs, the substrate costs will also be significantly lower as a result," he says, referring to last year's trials that showed similar figures. "This ratio also remains the same in red varieties, although production is of course slightly lower in both systems”.
Many different varieties can be grown in the Teens concept, more than in the comparable 15-gram babyleaf systems. "A grower can easily offer a mixed salad and choose from a wider range of varieties," says Simon. They also see further growth opportunities in the diversity of products to be grown. There is a growing demand for cultivation systems for rockets and spinach from both breeders and retailers. "We work closely with the breeders and certainly see potential for growing these products on our growing system as well”.
Hortiplan has noticed that the demand for the product is there, as well as the demand for the process behind it. "Everyone understands the concept and its advantages. There are now several tests, both in Europe and in America, and the first projects are currently being calculated. Of course, it remains an innovative, new product form, and in the current market you want to get the whole chain on board”.