“The recent situation in Eastern Europe has shown us again that there are many reasons why it is important to be energy efficient. Wasting energy is against the whole idea of sustainable food,” says Stefan Fürnsinn, CEO of Herbeus Greens, an Austrian vertical farm which spans 1,000 square meters.
Stefan had a passion for agricultural production and felt compelled by the losses and inefficiencies in the current food system. So, he was early on intrigued by the idea of a vertical farm to bring fresh products to consumers’ tables in a sustainable manner.
“My motivation is to radically improve the food system. We expect more and more things from food, which adds more constraints to the equation and makes it increasingly demanding for conventional farming to solve. There is a lot of great work in digitalizing and optimizing conventional farming, but another revolutionary avenue is vertical farming,” explains Stefan.
Herbeus Greens has two main product lines, the first being its special products that include various microgreens and specialty herbs. The second line is the company’s salad line which focuses on salad mixes and leafy greens. As Stefan explains, Herbeus Greens has trialed more than 400 varieties, over 30 of which are already produced at commercial scale in the farm while others are under development.
“Each crop category needs a tailored production system, so step by step we add one crop range after the other. While already providing one of the broadest portfolios in the industry, we will keep adding on quickly,” Stefan says. One exciting longer-term development is soft fruit production, which is not yet economically viable at the moment, but berries could enter the market in the coming years.
Commitment to sustainability
As Stefan explains, Herbeus Greens is committed to environmental sustainability and pushes this priority by improving efficiency in its facility and reducing waste. For instance, Herbeus Greens uses 100% recycled material for its packaging. The precise packaging depends on the client, with products destined for supermarkets and direct-to-consumer requiring packaging that is more aesthetically pleasing. Comparatively, sales to hotels require less aesthetic appeal and more functionality.
Aside from its commitment to zero waste in packaging, Herbeus Greens’ use of LED lighting further reduces waste on the energetic side. By selecting the optimum light spectrum and using the highest-efficiency lighting, Herbeus Greens reduces its electrical consumption and increases the light use efficiency by the plants.
“It is just not okay to waste energy, so we have optimized LED lighting for what we need. We’ve worked to select the right spectra and we’re not giving light when the plants don’t need it. Current energy prices are an additional motivation to constantly work on optimizing our electricity use,” explains Stefan.
Selling in five countries & looking to expand
As Herbeus Greens sells to a variety of customers in five countries, the farm offers cut and non-cut products to meet the customers’ needs. Herbeus Greens is also in the process of designing its next farm, which is planned to be in the EU or the Middle East.
“We always want to diversify our channels. We sell through hundreds of retail stores, direct-to-customer, wholesale and online. Every vertical farm needs to find the optimum spot – the critical mass. When building in a new country, we are coming in with a proven business model,” says Stefan.
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Stefan Fürnsinn, CEO