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Laura van de Kreeke, Growy:

"Vertical farm technology will become more readily available and cheaper"

Whether in Singapore, Kuwait, Amsterdam, or elsewhere, Growy sees opportunities everywhere to steadily expand its vertical farm concept for growing lettuce, herbs, and micro-vegetables. "With three new growing locations a year, we aim to have around 20 vertical farms operational in different parts of the world in about five years' time," Laura van de Kreeke ambitiously states. "The Netherlands serves as a test case because of its wealth of knowledge and expertise."

Under the Chef's Farm brand, microgreens have been supplied to catering customers in the Netherlands for a few years now. "Fifty varieties in total," says Laura. "They are grown in our vertical farm in Amsterdam. Restaurant owners order via the app, and the products are delivered to their homes the next day or, at the latest, within the same week by our drivers. Only Friesland and Groningen are not yet on our route; we have customers in all other provinces. There is certainly competition from some big brands, but sales are running smoothly. In fact, we are always at full capacity."

New large-scale cultivation site
To serve more catering customers and to partner with a major Dutch retailer from May for a constant supply of herbs and lettuce for the lettuce mixes, an additional large-scale cultivation site has been commissioned. "In the lettuce segment, we can offer 20 varieties. The retailer decides which varieties are grown for the mixes, such as a standard lettuce with some mustard leaf or radish leaf mixed in."

Everything is automated at Growy, from sowing to packaging. Only one operator works in the vertical farm and one in the packing station. Despite the high initial investment, this limited need for labor ensures that cultivation is competitive. "Actually, we are competing with Italy. That's where the bulk of the lettuce in the lettuce mixes you find on Dutch shelves comes from. Development costs have been high, of course, but we have managed to keep them somewhat down by developing everything ourselves, right down to the software. We cannot undercut Italy's price, but we are not far above it either. Our production has some clear advantages: the crops are not treated with plant protection products, so you don't have to wash them, they have a slightly higher quality, and they are from local cultivation, which means a really fresh product."

Singapore and Kuwait
In Singapore and Kuwait, Growy has taken over vertical farms from a company that previously only grew lettuce. "But if you only grow lettuce, it is difficult to be profitable. In those countries too, we now offer microgreens under our Chef's Farm brand, and the operation is profitable—in Singapore with two operators, and in Kuwait, where we are betting on slightly less automation for now and have chosen to keep the existing workforce, with 10 people. Nevertheless, the intention is eventually to fully implement our technology there too."

In countries with harsh weather conditions or little space but high demand for food, vertical farms offer a solution for local food production. "Our farm in Amsterdam will never enjoy a large market; the Netherlands is far too good at food production with its greenhouse and outdoor crops. Here, vertical farms are not actually needed, but the Netherlands offers excellent opportunities to develop vertical farms, given the ample presence of knowledge and skills in horticulture and technology."

In Singapore and Kuwait, where living standards are high and local food production is minimal, there is plenty of room in the market for fruits and vegetables from high-tech indoor cultivation. "Now we still offer leafy vegetables, herbs, and microgreens, but hopefully, we will be able to supply tomatoes and strawberries within a few years. Locally grown products are usually of better quality than imports."

"Costs will come down"
Given the fairly high energy prices in Singapore, roughly comparable to those in the Netherlands, the cost per unit of product in vertical farming is considerably higher than in Kuwait, where energy is incredibly cheap. "But I think within a few years, the technology itself will become much more available and therefore cheaper. When that happens, we eventually want to continue with projects in poorer countries, such as in Africa and Asia. If costs can come down, there will be a market for these products there too," Laura says firmly.

To make all this happen, Growy continues to look for investors. "To build new vertical farms, we need natural capital. We guarantee a good return on investment," concludes Laura.

This article previously appeared in edition 5, 38th volume of Primeur. See

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