Living produce takes many forms, from salads, greens and herbs in pots and peat moss to lettuce packed in clamshells.
It’s a safe product, and that’s an aspect that draws some consumers, marketing agents say.
“There’s no pesticide, no hormones, nothing in it you don’t find on the back of vitamin bottles,” said Michelle Goldman, owner of Living Lettuce Farms, Reseda, Calif.
Such is an advantage of hydroponic production, she said.
There are others, including sustainability measures, Goldman added.
“It’s not considered organic in that it doesn’t come out of soil that has been clean for seven years,” she said. “We grow in an (nutrient film technology) system outside but not in the ground. The water is being refrigerated in a reservoir, so there’s no waste of water. It saves a lot of water, and it saves a lot of space (compared to) if you grew it in the ground.”
Rick Antle, chief executive officer of Salinas, Calif.-based Tanimura & Antle, which grows living boston lettuce in a Tennessee hothouse, said his company emphasizes the locally grown aspect of the product.
Since it grows hydroponically, it grows faster — from seedling to maturity it’s about six weeks.
Serena Leiterman, executive assistant and business development officer with Thermal, Calif.-based herb grower-shipper North Shore Greenhouses Inc., said her company’s products are sought by consumers with a passion for cooking.
“I hate to put someone in a box necessarily, but it’s a little bit of a gourmet cook that might also buy specialty mushrooms. It’s a little bit of an extra price, but it’s a person who’s not going to mind that as much, but it’s such a small price that the everyday person can afford it, as well.”
Leiterman said the company’s line of 21 culinary herbs appeals to variety of demographic groups.
“We do very well at (upscale California retailer) Bristol Farms, but we’re also in (mainstream retailer) Stater Bros., so it’s two very different demographics where our product has been very successful,” she said.
Salinas-based Rocket Farms Inc., an herb grower-shipper, ventured into organics to cater to that growing constituency, said Marc Clark, executive vice president.
“We have a 40-acre (U.S. Department of Agriculture)-certified organic facility, and we started growing herbs there. We have a safety protocol in place. In addition to being organic, we’re also certified for the food safety program.”
That’s important to enough consumers that the company felt compelled to move in that direction, Clark said.
“I think there’s a fairly small percentage of consumers that that’s what they would probably buy no matter what,” he said, referring to living herbs. “Maybe they’re health-conscious or they’re really into a slow-food movement that they really want fresh. And there are people that really enjoy growing things.”
There are some parallels to fans of organics market, he added.
“I’m sure there’s definitely a tie-in there,” he said. “I suspect if you polled people that were buying, they’d be interested in the fact that it was organic.”
“Most of our products and vegetables, the majority of people buying them are women,” said Rob Arnold, vice president of marketing for Jenison, Mich.-based Luurtsema Sales Inc., which supplies Living Salad Bowls to retail customers and garden centers.