Michelle Goldman, owner of Living Lettuce Farms LLC, who has grown living produce for about 18 years, says her company ships about 1,000 heads of hydroponic lettuce a week.
Michelle Goldman, owner of Living Lettuce Farms LLC, who has grown living produce for about 18 years, says her company ships about 1,000 heads of hydroponic lettuce a week.

Living produce can’t get any fresher, which is compelling to many consumers, said Vince Choate, marketing director with Hollandia Produce LP/Live Gourmet, Carpinteria, Calif.

“We thought there was a great opportunity for consumers and retailers because it adds additional freshness. Nothing is fresher than living. The root keeps the leaf turgid. It doesn’t lose its water content so it helps it stay fresher.”

They also say that the category is flourishing.

“The category is going fine,” said Daniel Terrault, vice president of business development with hydroponic lettuce grower-shipper HydroSerre Mirabel Inc., Mirabel, Quebec.

Terrault said his company’s living produce category grew by 4% from 2013 to 2014.

Choate said the market is expanding.

“We continue to see new interest because it provides value,” he said. “The consumer takes it home and it’s fresh the first time and the second and third time. Anything they don’t use, they leave intact with that root ball and, when they go back to it, it’s just as usable as the first time.

It has longer shelf life. Overall, product quality stays much nicer, longer.”

Different lettuce varieties, including mache — a small lettuce with Mediterranean origins — are finding their niches, Terrault said.

“It’s pretty popular up here in Montreal,” Terrault said of mache. “We grow it in the greenhouse and sell it in the restaurants and hotels and things like that, and we’re also selling it in a clamshell for the retailers.”

Jenison, Mich.-based Luurtsema Sales Inc. is doing well with its Living Salad Bowls, said Dean Luurtsema, vice president.

“It seems like the push on retails has been up on all sorts of vegetables,” he said.

The key to growing the living produce category always has been education, Luurtsema said.

“There’s retail buying feedback that encourages usage, recipe suggestions,” he said.

That needs to continue, if not increase, Luurtsema said.

“As a culture we are quite cut off from (the) agriculture base, and I think there’s probably a lot of experimentation, where people want to get in touch with something more basic,” he said.

Living produce helps consumers feel like they are playing an active role in feeding themselves, Luurtsema said.

“Curiosity about agriculture drives it. You get a container of living vegetables, and it’s already done for you,” he said.

Living Lettuce Farms LLC ships about 1,000 heads of lettuce weekly from its hyproponic operation in Reseda, Calif., said Michelle Goldman, owner.

Goldman said she has been involved in the living produce category for about 18 years.

“Hydroponics has been around for many years, but here in the U.S., it’s not that common,” she said. “You’ll see it more commonly in places like Israel and Egypt, where they have very bad land.”

The category is taking off in California, where water shortages have persisted, she said.

“We sell it at farmers markets throughout the city, directly to the consumer,” she said. “It grows faster than conventional head lettuce. It has actually more nutrients.”

North Shore Greenhouses Inc., Thermal, Calif., focuses on herbs, which have moved into the living category, said Jim Fox, sales director.

“Our retail partners have experienced growth in volume, net per item and sales when switching to living herbs, which provide the most tender, vibrant aroma and flavor,” Fox said.