Breeder and grower partnership allows to grow and improve leafy greens strategically

Amr Bassiouny knows what he is talking about when it comes to hydroponics. Currently, he’s Project Manager for AlGhanim Agriculture Group, but his career goes way back: “I started in the industry ten years ago, and I built the first hydroponic leafy greens farm in Egypt,” he told the audience at the GreenTech Vision Stage, during the session ‘Growing for consumer needs’ hosted by Rijk Zwaan.

Minimizing risk
When he moved to high-tech indoor agriculture, Amr says he’s always looked to minimize risks: “There’s always the risk of climate, risk of pests, all the environmental factors that you can’t control. At that point, I started working with AlGhanim Agriculture Group to get a really high-tech system where we can control all of these factors. We were working with Dutch technology and just finished building a 2.5-hectare farm, which is fully robotic up until harvest. So you basically put the seeds in the machine and let it run.”

Egyptian market trends
The majority of leafy greens grown in the new greenhouse will be exported, but Amr is still in a good position to shed light on the Egyptian market. “It’s been trending towards more environmentally-friendly types of growing and healthier eating options, which is why they’ve been moving into other types of leafy greens, like kale and chard, which were relatively unknown ten years ago.”

Friendly R&D
Amr continues to talk about the partnership with Rijk Zwaan, which also goes back ten years. “We’ve purchased seeds from a lot of companies, but with Rijk Zwaan, we’ve really worked together to continually improve the varieties of leafy greens. There was always a back-and-forth of very friendly R&D. It’s really just a partnership; it’s very different than just buying seeds.”

The support from Rijk Zwaan goes beyond just the vegetable seeds, as Shuang Fan, Account Manager Horticultural Projects at the company, explains. “My job is to help partners or clients, like Amr, when they want to start a new business or projects, to help them from the very beginning to make the right decisions for the aspects that we have expertise in. With our experience, we want to help those growers make as few mistakes as possible and choose the right systems and solutions.”

Seeds and services
Partnering with Rijk Zwaan on a project means access to seeds and services, Shuang goes on to explain. “Services always come together with the seeds. We work together with the grower to help them develop the market together. We also see what the demand from the market is, and then we can give this information to the grower or the investor to stimulate them to follow the trends.”

Consumer research
One way in which Rijk Zwaan supports their partners is through consumer research, as Jan Doldersum, the company’s Manager Chain & Retail, explains. “We do a lot of sensory research with our varieties, especially the fruit crops, but also the leafy greens to get the crunchy texture right. We work with sensory panels, taste panels, both in-house and with external agencies, in multiple countries.”

Another way to understand the market is with the Retail Centre in Berlin. Jan: “That helps us to understand the path to purchase. Apart from taste, what are the typical consumption behaviors of consumers? We have an eye-tracking glass, and we can follow that with cameras: how long do they look at a certain product? Do they look first at the product or at the price? Afterwards, we have a one-on-one debrief conversation to find out why they’re taking those decisions.”

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