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Plugs are a key factor in the success of smart indoor gardens

Finland-based Plantui produces smart indoor gardens for sale to consumers. The company has doubled its sales volumes over the past year, driven by a number of macro trends including sustainability, food safety, local sourcing, healthy eating and home cooking. Besides the innovative LED technology and closed-loop irrigation system, the Grodan plugs in which the edible plants are grown are a key factor in the success of these miniature ‘vertical farms’ for in the home.

“The recent changes in the world such as urbanization and the COVID-19 pandemic have further spurred the grow-your-own food movement. People are looking for safe and sustainable solutions,” says Kari Vuorinen, CTO of Plantui.

“We’ve put all our knowledge and research related to plant science, nutrients, light and technology into creating a patented indoor hydroponic growing method, from seed to plant. Our lighting solution is based on a special photon stream that replicates the light of Finnish Lapland and optimizes photosynthesis. This results in more green mass and better quality, meaning the plants are much tastier and more nutritious than the ones you can buy in supermarkets.”

Automatically regulated
The device is sold with everything included: horticultural LED lighting, a water bowl with integrated pump system, seed capsules and nutrients, which are adjusted by the integrated microcontroller in line with the growth phase algorithm recipe. “After extensively testing relevant light spectra, we’ve programmed the computer in the device to automatically regulate the wavelength and intensity of the light and the water-pumping rhythms as the seeds progress through the germination, seedling and growth phases,” explains Martina Angeleri, head of plant science at Plantui.

“So all the customer needs to do is fit the device together, fill the water bowl, insert the capsules, plug the device in and then keep the water and nutrients topped up roughly once a month. At the end of the harvesting period, they simply clean the device – and everything is dishwasher-proof – and then they can buy new capsules and start all over again. The  indoor garden can produce three to four harvests a year, depending on which types of plants people choose to grow.” 

Besides the automated lighting and irrigation system, the substrate is equally important in ensuring that Plantui can deliver on its 100% guarantee of success. “If the seeds don’t germinate you won’t have any plants, so the growing medium has to be failsafe,” says Kari.

“That’s why we tested lots of different solutions when we first started out in 2013, including peat, sphagnum moss, coconut fibre and stone wool. Sphagnum moss was very promising in the growth stage but it’s not easy to get hold of. When we tested it against Grodan’s plugs, we found that they were just as good in the growth stage and actually achieved better performance in the germination stage – plus they are readily available in large quantities, so we’d hit the bullseye!”

Plantui initially sourced the plugs through the Grodan distributor in Finland, but later started working directly with the company in the Netherlands. “Grodan has played a big part in our success with the plants and the device. For example, the company has tailored the existing plugs specifically to our needs by creating a slightly bigger hole for the seeds in the capsule.” 

Sustainability is a top priority for Plantui; its devices are energy-efficient, produce 100%-natural food with no pesticides or other additives, and help to reduce the carbon footprint in terms of food miles and food waste. “Stone wool is a good fit with this because basalt is an inexhaustible resource. Additionally, Grodan is the only company of its kind that is EU-certified for environmental excellence. At the end of the harvesting phase, the stone wool plugs can be separated from the plastic holders and both parts can be recycled, which supports our ‘100% recyclable’ message,” states Kari.

Path to sales growth
The company is already selling tens of thousands of devices annually, both to high-end department stores across Europe – including in the UK and Italy – and through its own webshop. It is on track to double its sales this year, having received a major boost from an agreement between Plantui and a leading European producer of home appliances which has recently started marketing and distributing Plantui’s products under its own brand. Additionally, promising negotiations are underway with retailers in countries including Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Exciting future
The future not only looks very exciting for Plantui because of the increasing sales of its devices but also because it has patented its technology and growing method globally. “We ourselves are focusing on consumer products for now, and there may be opportunities to branch out into other channels such as food service. For example, a couple of hotels and restaurants are already using our devices. We’ve even developed a specific lighting program exclusively for a chef at a one-star Michelin restaurant who now grows his own unique-tasting dill!” exclaims Kari.

“But the technology itself is ready for use on a larger scale and we’re now licensing it to other companies. In fact, we’ve recently sold licenses to two small-scale vertical farms. We believe that networking is the key to success nowadays, so we are looking to build a good network of partners around the world – including in the USA and China – who can help us to further expand our market, and we are pleased that Grodan forms a part of that,” he concludes. 

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