About a month ago, Dutch startup Glowfarms kicked off production in its cultivation facility to test all growing parameters in the 140m2 farm. Glowfarms was founded in the summer of 2020 by Luc de Vries and Ben Pieterse with the aim of creating a vertical farming company with a perfect balance between technology and marketing.
The company uses its own unique vertical cultivation system, which is in fact a large conveyor belt moving 10cm an hour. It is being filled with small plants at the start and it takes 24 days for the conveyor to get to the end, where the large plants can be harvested. Along the way water, nutrients and light is given, tailored to the plants’ needs. As of now, the company grows a large variety of herbs, while still analyzing what other varieties work in their system.
Ben Pieterse en Luc de Vries
Currently, the facility is used as a proof of concept and research farm to show the advantages of the technology and to create a self-learning system to be implemented in a future cultivation facility. Therefore, Glowfarms aims to soon expand into a 3000 m2 facility allowing for much more efficient production. This facility will be constructed close to distribution centers.
Luc notes, “As of now, we’re developing, building and testing all the processes by ourselves since all the systems would have to be custom made for our farm. The cost of such tailor-made equipment built by third parties would be too high at this stage. However, if other companies offer a better solution, we’d love to try that out in order to be more time-efficient. The system is currently fully developed and easy to scale, but we’re constantly looking for the best solution.” Soon the company will be testing a robotic arm, to improve efficiency in the long run, with regard to planting and harvesting.
Increasing awareness amongst Dutch consumers
“We found that many products, especially herbs, weren't produced locally yet and the shelf life was a real issue for consumers. That’s why we want to bridge this gap with our consumer brand Glow. At this point, we’re in talks with several potential retail partners on where to pilot our products and from most, we did already receive positive confirmation,'' says Luc.
The company wants to raise awareness for vertical farming and reducing food waste on a Dutch consumer level. Moreover, Glowfarms will also promote locally grown produce. Many Dutch consumers aren’t aware that most of the herbs they buy in the supermarket are imported from Morocco or Israel, mentions Luc.
According to Luc, Glowfarms’ cut products can be kept in a fridge for two weeks. “In comparison, when buying cut herbs that are grown traditionally, they normally don’t last very long.” Glowfarms will be piloting its product line in several supermarkets across the country to prove traction and to show investors the potential of Glow herbs.
Given the volatile nature of fresh herb market prices, due to seasonal influences, the company aims for a fixed price. Retail prices vary from €1.15 (low season) and €1.60 (or higher) high season. “As we’re not season bound, we’re targeting a fixed price of around €1.50,” says Ben Pieterse, co-founder of Glowfarms. “Although we might be priced lower than other suppliers at times, we want to show that our product is consistent day in, day out,” Luc adds.
In comparison to other fresh herbs available in retail stores, the product has rather significantly different packaging. The product packaging is brightly colored and is made of recycled cardboard, using 90% less plastic than other packaging present in stores. Inside the box, a thin layer of PET film is used to preserve the product for up to two weeks. As of now, the company has four products ready to be sold to retail, being: basil, Thai basil, parsley and coriander.