“In general, at Enza Zaden we see a difference between genetics for greenhouses and vertical farming, especially for high yielding required products,” says Anh Nguyen, Portfolio Manager at Enza Zaden. “It depends on the growing setting of the crops. We think that improved varieties, specifically for closed controlled environments, will play an important role in the further development and growth of the vertical farming market. Therefore, it’s a great market opportunity for us to step into and to play a key role in vertical farming.”
Enza Zaden has a lot of experience in variety selection for indoor cultivation, for more than 80 years now. To specify indoor cultivation, Anh notes that indoor farming to Enza Zaden, either means greenhouse- or vertical farming production. According to her, high-tech greenhouses are representing the most growing operations in North America and Europe. These greenhouses are offering a solution for the year-round provision of leafy greens, tomatoes and cucumbers.
“There is a growing market for indoor farming produce, especially in salads. Vertical farms can be one of the sustainable solutions for that growing demand. This new way of production is driven by a technology boost and demand for ultra-fresh food (shortening time and food miles from farm to fork). Vertical farms can contribute to this trend as well. Still, vertical farming has a minor share in indoor farming, however, it has a fast growth rate.”
Currently, Enza Zaden sees a lot of requests for varieties coming from vertical farms, in leafy greens. Given there’s a lot of out-of-the-box thinking, and innovation is high, Anh assumes that more products will become available for this new way of production. For example, fruity crops like tomatoes and strawberries. “Farmers are looking for unique selling points as it’s harder for vertical farming crops to compete in the market otherwise. Enza Zaden offers to broaden the vegetable basket with other crops when vertical farmers pick up the challenge to grow new crops.
Before entering this market, it is necessary to understand consumer demand. Therefore, Enza Zaden follows consumer-, foodservice- and retail trends closely in order to answer future market trends and tackle what farmers and consumers are looking for. Especially now, says Anh, food trends have increased significantly. Now, consumers are more focused on food safety, local-for-local and sustainability. "I think vertical farming will create the opportunity of fresh produce in metropolitan areas, for instance, that heavily rely on imports and cannot produce independently, as of now. Vertical farming can be a solution for future consistency and ultra-fresh produce."
Tackling local demand
“In our market approach, we’re thinking of how to partner with key players in North America, Europe, and Asia. In this way, we can gain knowledge on different market dynamics, understanding the local market. This enables us to offer the right products for any market. We're further developing our product portfolio so that eventually we can offer a wide range of products for vertical farmers.
The company is excited to use its experience in vegetable breeding on the global market, being open to partnerships with customers and industry newcomers.
“Looking at the differences and similarities in these emerging markets, we at Enza Zaden are trying to answer the following question: ‘What can we do as a vegetable seed supplier to offer to indoor farming markets and production environments?’," Anh notes.
At this point, the company is stepping in with leafy greens. Several lettuce- and herb varieties can be found in Enza Zaden's product assortment for vertical farmers. “We’re constantly looking for innovation and market trends to fit into the market. However, it depends on how the vertical farming market will develop in the next ten years,” says Anh.
“At this stage, we think vertical farming is a trend and based on consumer-driven demand, with a need for vertical farming products. As we breed, for both greenhouses and vertical farms, Enza Zaden aims to provide the right assortment for vertical farmers. That's because we believe in vertical farming as the next evolution of food. Next to that, we have a dedicated R&D team that is developing more suitable varieties for this new way of indoor vegetable growing. We focus on the right product model, with a high yield, a long shelf-life, great texture and flavor, such as Eazyleaf and Crispy Lettuce. We can ensure an attractive product appearance in terms of color and shape,” Anh affirms.