Greenhouse-grown fresh produce continues to gain market share on field production, grower-shippers say.
The trend away from field and toward greenhouse has been going on for years now, said Mike Reed, president of Langley, British Columbia-based BC Hot House Foods Inc.
BC is increasing its production by an estimated 13% this year, but it’s hardly alone in capitalizing on the popularity of greenhouse-grown.
“The other large players have seen similar increases,” Reed said.
There’s still a lot of work to be done to differentiate greenhouse-grown from other forms of protected agriculture, Reed said.
There’s a big difference, he said, between growing vegetables in all-glass facilities designed in Holland, as BC does, and growing them under shade or plastic, Reed said.
Joe Spano, vice president of sales and marketing for Kingsville, Ontario-based Mucci Farms, also sees industry-wide gains for greenhouse-grown produce.
“I think greenhouse continues to grow — our programs are a little more stable,” he said. “Retailers can count on consistent programs from us. There’s a place for field-grown, but it’s not as consistent.”
Within the protected agriculture category, Aaron Quon, greenhouse and vegetable category director for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, doesn’t notice a major trend one way or the other.
“We’re not seeing one protected environment gain in popularity over others,” he said. “The type of structure used typically depends on geographic location, size, scope, etc.”
One way greenhouse marketers are differentiating their products from field-grown is through technology, Quon said.
“Over the last few years, we have all seen quick-response codes and related microsites that complement in-store efforts to differentiate greenhouse from items grown using other production methods and to tell growers’ stories,” he said.
“Consumer communication continues to evolve, with growers blogging, tweeting and posting on Facebook in varying degrees,” he said.
That kind of interactivity, Quon said, helps educate consumers, gives them reasons to purchase and creates an affinity for the brand.
“It also helps us, as marketers, get a sense of what interests or concerns consumers, so we can provide more of the solutions they’re seeking,” he said.
After a long period of flux, the greenhouse vegetable industry and its place in the wider fresh produce industry are beginning to take more definite shape, said Doug Kling, chief sales and marketing officer for Eatontown, N.J.-based Village Farms LP.
“I think the field/greenhouse balance is stabilizing,” Kling said. “Greenhouses used to be unique. Now they’re over 50% of the industry.”
Efficiency an appeal
Part of that stability has to do with growers gaining mastery over their growing environments.
“They’re grown more efficiently in climates now that were harder in the past,” Kling said.
Another stabilizing factor is a better understanding of greenhouse-grown versus other forms of protected agriculture, such as shade and plastic, Kling said.
“Real hydroponic greenhouses are creating a more stable environment, and better product,” Kling said.
The industry and consumers are more aware that more low-tech versions of protected don’t deliver the consistency and quality of greenhouses, he said.
Growers also are doing a better job of getting the word out that greenhouses use as much as 86% less water than field grown.
Kling emphasizes, however, that when people talk about “field vs. greenhouse,” they shouldn’t see it as a one-winner game.
“Both types of farming meet a need,” he said. “They’re not necessarily stealing from one another.”
Greenhouse, for instance, may be more attractive to many retailers, while field-grown continues to thrive in institutional and other markets, Kling said.