In this episode Joe and Nick talk about the microgreens business.
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Polygreens Podcast Episode 55
[00:00:00] Joe Swartz: Hey, everyone. Welcome to another episode of the poly greens podcast. I'm Joe Swartz from am hydro, along with Nick greens of the Nick greens grow team. And this is our last podcast of the year. And, uh, we've had, uh, another, you know, very interesting year, a great year. Um, Nick, it's been a lot of fun so far, hasn't it?
[00:00:17] Nick Greens: Yeah. It has been fun. Um, you know, Great guest. And I mean, we're continuing on, you know, we get, we got a great lineup coming, um, in the new year, you know, Stephen Ritz. So we got coming on a show, we got a, you know, a bunch of other great, great programs that teachers are working on too.
[00:00:37] Joe Swartz: Yeah. And we've got a new series.
We're going to start about ask the experts. And, um, we've got a couple of really great, uh, names that you, you know, um, Paul Brent linger from crop king and Chris Higgins, port America is, are going to be on with us. And we're going to be tackling maybe the top four or five issues in controlled environment ag.
And this is where you come in. We are, uh, we've been taking, uh, [00:01:00] input from people on social media. And we're asking you now, please reach out to us on social media. You can email me. Uh, at email@example.com or Nick, Nick, Nick greens.com. Uh, obviously you've, you've seen this on social media. What we want is to know what is most important to you, what you think are the biggest challenges in controlled environment ag, what are the most important issues coming up?
Uh, what are your biggest, uh, concerns? What are your biggest, uh, points of opportunity? We're going to address all of those and we're going to. With Paul and Chris. And we're going to address, uh, from the perspective of longtime industry. I mean, uh, industry, uh, veterans, Paul has been at the helmet crop king for a very long time.
He's grown up in this business, Chris Higgins, uh, similarly grown up in this industry. He's been with Hort Americas. Uh, founded it quite a while ago. I don't know, almost 30 years with Chris Hagens. It's been a long time. It's been a long time, longer than Chris [00:02:00] probably would want to admit, but we're going to have them on and we're going to tackle some of these topics.
We're going to talk about urban farming, vertical farming, different types of hydroponic systems, different types of application, all about the
[00:02:11] Nick Greens: manufacturing side as well, too, with the very recent.
[00:02:16] Joe Swartz: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And we're also going to have guests on from the academic and research, and we're going to have commercial growers on, and each time we're going to pick several, uh, topics from your input.
So that's why it's really important that you make your voices heard, whether it's on LinkedIn or Twitter or other social media. Tell us what you want to hear about. Nick. And I have obviously talked about some of these, but we'll certainly also be bringing on leading experts. So while we have a lot of great guests lined up already for the next couple of months to talk about themselves, their businesses, what they do in the industry, we're also going to now start putting together some of these round tables so we can have groups of experts and we can have just [00:03:00] conversations with you.
So that's really, to me, one of the most exciting things about, you know, come what's coming up in January. And February, but, um, but Nick, uh, Nick, you want to talk a little bit today about commercial microgreens yeah, this
[00:03:12] Nick Greens: another micro green edition. Uh, you know, we, we, this is our third one this year.
This has been a it's it's been, you know, everybody keeps on giving me, they want to hear more about microgreens. So that's why we keep on doing it in the show. I mean, it's, it's some of our biggest download episodes is the microcrane edition that we've been.
[00:03:32] Joe Swartz: Well, the more you talk about it and walk people through it and feature what other growers are doing in addition to what you're, you're doing yourself.
It seems to create more questions because it just takes people farther down that road. And people I've been talking to a lot of people who, some of which, who are some of our growers who have incorporated microgreens production into this. Uh, farming operations using, uh, our propagation systems, some have their own systems, some have [00:04:00] systems that you've designed.
So, um, yeah, we'd love to hear more, um, from, from all the input that you've been getting that kind of builds on, on where you started
[00:04:10] Nick Greens: and, you know, a lot of, a lot of what's going on is, um, you know, I've been seeing all of these, uh, ads that I've been getting about. You know, uh, take this course and you'll learn everything to, to, to become, you know, successful growing microgreens and, you know, I don't want people to be lead on by that, that, you know, because it's, that's not true.
You can't just start a microgreen business anywhere and just it's going to be successful. Um, you know, it's just like anything, right? There's a formula behind it. And the formula starts with, with the market, just like anything of building a lettuce business, our tomato business. And I mean, I know you've been involved with so many business plans, Joe, that you understand this, that the market needs to be there to sustain the size farm that we were presenting to build.
[00:04:58] Joe Swartz: Yeah. Yeah. [00:05:00] And again, I mean, a farm is a farm and that's why we have so many different farms and different types of technology, different approaches. And all of that is because it's, it's unique. It's unique to you personally. It's unique to. The area of the country you are, or even just within your city or town, where you are the climate, the customer base, what the markets are looking for them.
And there's so many different things. I always found it interesting that people would always be kind of clamoring to, you know, their notion of controlled environment. Ag. We need to, you know, you need to grow, obviously lettuce is a big one. We need to grow a lettuce and we need to grow it in a raft system or an NFT system.
Or we need to grow tomatoes because. Everyone else seems to be growing tomatoes. But the fact of the matter is, and, and people send us, see this as a challenge, but it's really a phenomenal opportunity. Look at your markets, look at what's, um, either, um, uh, a need that's not being filled [00:06:00] adequately or even going so far.
And I think this is where, um, some of the things that you were talking about off air and Nick, uh, about people making value added products is you can create your own opportunities and your own markets. I have seen so many people. I've done this a little bit myself, but I've seen so many people innovate.
Production systems and innovate different crops and how those crops are packaged or sold or incorporated into other products.
[00:06:25] Nick Greens: And did the packaging does matter? Like if you, if you package your microgreens live in a certain packaging, then they can go on a serpent shelf that you're not competing with the cut microgreen department, you know, so there's ways around it.
But, but the market has to be there. Is there a market? Is there people buying microgreens. Store our, our market or wherever they're trying to sell them.
[00:06:51] Joe Swartz: Yeah. It's amazing how many people, um, are trying to grow something without really digging deep into their market. They're almost like [00:07:00] trying to grow a product and then find the market to sell it to, which is really putting the cart before the horse.
It's really important. I know you've heard us talk about marketing a lot, but. At the end of the day, it's what you know, that your consumers are looking for and, and filling that niche. And if you look at any successful business and this can be, you know, from people who have innovated and become fabulously wealthy, and really change the world, as we know.
All the way down to just a simple entrepreneur, who's making a little extra money. What they're all doing is they're filling a need. They're solving a problem. And, and that's really how, if you're new to this industry or if you're really looking to take it to the next. One of the most important things that you can really do is step back and look at those markets when you've, um, in, in a lot of the, the microgreens businesses that you've run naked, as well as some of your clients.
Do you have kind of a, uh, and I don't want to say a formula, but an ideal [00:08:00] configuration, as far as how those, uh, microgreens are packaged and marketed or, or are you kind of all over the board,
[00:08:07] Nick Greens: one size doesn't fit all I'm thinking like, you know, say for instance, you're in. Um, and practically anywhere in Illinois right now, right?
Uh, you try to start to sell microgreens to grocery stores in Illinois. You're going to have competition. There are those supermarkets already have maybe two or three different microgreen producers that they buy from because you know, the way supermarkets are supermarkets, don't want to depend on one brand, depending on three brands, then they consistently know they're always going to have that.
You know, that's why they do that.
[00:08:41] Joe Swartz: Yeah. Um, grocery buyers produce buyers, um, by the, it is in their best interest to have multiple sources and to have multiple sources on hand all the time, which means that they will always be cultivating relationships with many different producers. And, um, it's, [00:09:00] it's really faulty thinking to think that.
'cause this produce buyer likes me, or because I have a cool or innovative product where maybe I have better products than what's available, that I'm going to kind of step in and take over that market share and hold onto it. And that's just not the case.
[00:09:16] Nick Greens: And don't put that in your business plan that shouldn't be in your business.
[00:09:20] Joe Swartz: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. There's been, I mean, we, and we've talked about some of these, um, uh, boutique consulting, urban ag consulting firms and controlled environment, ag consulting firms that have really no experience in production and marketing of these products or, or have any real experience in the fresh produce in.
And that's really, um, that, that that's harmony the industry. And a lot of ways that that's led growers again, to kind of, you know, look at the, their, their direction of their business, um, you know, backwards and not understanding the marketplace and not understanding that regardless of where you are and what you're doing.
[00:10:00] The fresh produce industry is always highly competitive, fast paced, and no one has kind of a cornered market on anything. And in some of the biggest names in the industry, Gotham greens, bright farms, you know, these are very well established growers who are constantly innovating, not only what they're the market.
What they're marketing and how they're marketing it, but being keenly aware of the fact that markets change, that customer demands change. And they're always looking to, to serve that. And I know in micro that
[00:10:36] Nick Greens: I think the cool thing about those companies, Joe, is that I really liked a lot is, um, they put their relationships.
Uh, with, with, uh, the vendors or with the grocery stores. First, I really liked that they really have a close relationship on, on who they're working with, you know, and I think whole foods is a one, a really big partner of theirs as well.
[00:10:56] Joe Swartz: Oh, sure. Yeah. And here in the Northeast, I mean, there are several. [00:11:00] Uh, grocery chains that I shop at and Gotham is here in the Northeast.
They've got a really great facility in Rhode Island, for example, and they're constantly innovating and working with these, you know, small mid-size and large international grocery chains to provide, um, you know, a good customer service. That goes far beyond just selling a product. And that's really important.
If you look at, uh, in the tomato industry, you look at sunset produce, you look at some of these really big, innovative producers. Again, their products are always improving. Their packaging is always improving, and these are big products that occupy a big piece of, uh, of the real estate in a produce department and any grocery store.
When we start looking at micro greens, these are very. Highly specialized product, a niche product. Certainly one that in terms of volume, doesn't have a lot of market share. I mean, how, you know, compared to [00:12:00] per capita consumption of leafy greens or certain herbs or tomatoes or peppers, you put micro greens into that mix of micro greens is minuscule almost non-existent in comparison.
So that just means that the marketing and sales component is so much more. I think it's, I
[00:12:17] Nick Greens: think it's one of those that people want to take home and, and it's not something you should base your business off the restaurants, you know, of course, uh, we learned through going through some pandemics that, you know, you shouldn't base your, uh, your restaurant sales as part of your whole.
Business plan and you should be diverse. Uh, what you're, when you're selling, uh, you know, your microgreens and I think microgreens is one of those things you can be in a market, Joe, where you're getting 40 bucks a pound and you're just crushing it for years and there's nobody competing with your market.
And then you can be in a market where you're barely getting 12 bucks a pound and you're not even making money, you
[00:12:54] Joe Swartz: know? Yeah. I've on to that, that it requires a lot of [00:13:00] education on your part to educate the. Um, the, your retail partner in terms of how to handle it, how to merchandise. It microgreens are certainly one that, that can have a limited shelf life, especially if it's mishandled or not refrigerated properly.
I mean, that's really something that you don't, and this holds true with every product that you could grow and sell, but the sale or the relationship. And the involvement doesn't stop when you drop off that product at the grocery store or the distribution center. I mean, that's really kind of just the beginning because how they handle it is going to, you know, how they merchandise it is going to have a huge impacts on your future sales.
You know, those are things that are not within your control to a certain degree yet. You know, just leaving it to chance or leaving it up to, to someone else really can be disastrous. And I've seen that happen a lot. So with microgreens or any other items that you might have in, in your, your [00:14:00] operation is, you know, ed learning yourself.
How that product needs to be handled and seeing what the best ways to merchandise it is. And then working with your partners in the retail end of it, to really make sure that these products are handled well, their merchandise properly, which again, really goes to what ultimately what your sales are going to be.
You know, not only what's what you're selling right now, but what you're going to be selling that.
[00:14:27] Nick Greens: Yeah, don't, don't marketing should be based off nutrients and, and how healthy that it, and make claims that are out there. Because right now there's a bunch of tests that are already been done on microgreens Joe, and you can get a bunch of, uh, you know, you know, you can find that all over the internet from the USDA to NASA, done thunder, uh, you know, research on it.
So. The proofs they're on and which ones have more nutrients than others, but if someone's telling you, they all have. More nutrients than the mature, [00:15:00] a product that's not, that's false, you know, not all of them contain more than the, than the mature
[00:15:06] Joe Swartz: product. So what are you saying? You're saying there's a lot of BS in the industry and a lot of misinformation,
[00:15:10] Nick Greens: there's just a lot of false claims.
You know, people saying that, you know, like everything is just better, you know, it, it, you know, just because it was grown, hydroponically are in soil or whatever doesn't mean that it's healthy and it contains the nutrients. The only way you can figure out the nutrient. Putting it in the lab and testing
[00:15:29] Joe Swartz: and understanding more about what you're buying as a consumer, uh, and more about your grower.
This is why this is in my. Uh, almost 40 years now in the produce industry. One of the things that that has been one of the most profound changes is that people really now, consumers not only understand a lot more about the food they're buying in terms of how it's grown, um, what some of these foods are nutritionally.
Um, how they're used in cooking, but also to the, the [00:16:00] support and awareness of the farm, where it's grown. That's why locally grown has become such a, a very important, if not the key purchasing criteria for a lot of consumers is they want to know specifically where the product was wrong. When I was new in the India.
And I was starting to navigate the marketing chains and, you know, different supermarket chains here in the Northeast. No one cared where it came from. They literally wanted to make sure it looked pretty and that it was price competitive. That is me. And it was going to be
[00:16:36] Nick Greens: ready that day. You said it was
[00:16:37] Joe Swartz: going to be ready.
Yeah, absolutely. But now it is, it is completely stood on its head. Now everyone wants to know where this came from. Who's growing it, which is great. And social media of course has had a huge hand in them. Instagram
[00:16:53] Nick Greens: for sure has a big, I mean, Instagram was like, Yeah. You know, they were pulsing microgreen pictures on [00:17:00] Instagram years and years ago, you know, they were ahead of it.
You know, now just every chef and everyone just wants to post every meal they're having, you know,
[00:17:07] Joe Swartz: yeah. Almost everybody I've talked to who purchases specialty greens, items like that are acutely aware of where the, I mean, you know, where they've grown, where they've come from, there's so much brand loyalty, you know, they want to buy.
This brand of microgreens specifically because they know other grower or they follow the
[00:17:25] Nick Greens: growth, especially in places like Denver, where like you can't get fresh stuff, you know, that we're where are they? Where's it growing? You know, where's the forest in Denver.
[00:17:35] Joe Swartz: Yeah. I mean, uh, the, the opportunities there for you as a grower are tremendous, but there are a few, you know, obviously.
There's more market research and it can be easily. We we've done podcasts where we've talked about that. Um, you know, informal market research, a lot of observation, that's, that's really the best place to start. And so when you start looking at some of these products, understanding what the market is looking for [00:18:00] and how you can best adjust your production to meet.
Is going to be really important. And, and again, you know, not getting caught up in a lot of the claims and the hype, we were talking off air, um, uh, from a production standpoint about micro microgreens and, um, uh, certain someone who remained nameless, uh, promoting. Mike Rowe, is it a chorus or a system that they're there
[00:18:22] Nick Greens: some speak?
It's a bunch of things. I think once they get them on a course, they just probably hook them in. And
[00:18:28] Joe Swartz: Hey folks, I'm sitting right here in front of this micro green system that you can see me a
[00:18:31] Nick Greens: thousand dollars and I will make you
[00:18:34] Joe Swartz: famous. Send me, send me a check and you can be making $2,000 a week, right in the comfort of your own home.
And if you act
[00:18:42] Nick Greens: now, we'll throw in double the amount of information.
[00:18:46] Joe Swartz: We'll give you two systems for the price of one, but, you know, we joke about that, but that's really, um, you know, dangerous and not helpful. So, so when you're looking again at, you know, [00:19:00] becoming a producer, there's a lot of resources out there.
A lot of credible resources look to people who are doing
[00:19:07] Nick Greens: there's several microgreen books that have been written. They were written 2012, July, 2010, like. Go get one of those books and I'm pretty sure there's probably one that was written in 2003, you know, like just go get one of those microgreen books and just, you know, dive into that.
And I think that's a best place to start and spend, you know, five bucks to 10 bucks on that book
[00:19:29] Joe Swartz: where you can buy my book for 1999 because I invented microgreens back in 1874.
[00:19:34] Nick Greens: And then the course is only 9 99 99
[00:19:39] Joe Swartz: a month. And if you buy now, you'll get a free tote bag to go with that. So, anyway, um, we like to joke around about, about these things, but they can be very serious subjects because again, it affects your bottom line.
It affects your ability to get good credible growing information. It's also impedes your, [00:20:00] um, awareness of what's going on in the marketplace, in the industry itself. So the, the information is out there and if you already
[00:20:06] Nick Greens: have a market and you're selling lettuce, then. Most likely you probably can sell microgreens easy.
If you already got a market buying lettuce off of you. I mean, they go hand microgreens golden lettuce. You know what I mean? Like it's well, if
[00:20:20] Joe Swartz: you're, if you're already producing leafy greens or, or looking at producing leafy greens, microgreens are an amazing companion product building. Business model around microgreens is pretty tough.
I mean, only a few growers have done that successfully. Um, and they were brilliant at marketing and production.
[00:20:39] Nick Greens: So, um, in funding to the ones that I've known had they, they had $300,000 to start with, you know?
[00:20:46] Joe Swartz: Yeah. So, so we're, we're looking ahead now. Um, 20, 22 is upon us and it's kind of scary. So there's a lot of interesting things going on in the industry just as itself, but [00:21:00] obviously COVID and things going on around the world, both related to energy to supply chain and the delivery
[00:21:07] Nick Greens: service.
I mean, I'm Mike in there, Joe, I'm, I'm kinda liking the whole, how do we get the food and the farming products to the, to the people too. And a lot of people are doing this home delivery service. I think it's working for a lot of people and I'm not thinking it's the final answer. Don't I'm not an expert on delivery service, please.
Don't, don't take this wrong. There's something there to explore.
[00:21:29] Joe Swartz: I do. I have the final answer and that is that there is no final answer nor will there ever be. So, uh, We're all kind of drawn. And I admit I've done that too. We're all kind of drawn to that one solution and there are none. So, um, you know, looking at different opportunities coming down the pipeline, what do you see?
What have you been seeing Nick that, that kind of excites you for 2022 in terms of food, production and distribution? I think.
[00:21:55] Nick Greens: And people's awareness of just eating healthy and wanting to be healthy. Um, I [00:22:00] think it's just bigger than ever right now. I mean, yeah, every year people want to join the gym, you know, th this is the best, I mean, January is like, I think the sales of like snack foods and Coca-Cola and all that.
I think this is the time of year the sales go down because everybody's trying to, you know, like I'm not going to drink no more Coke or I'm not going to be healthy for them. And then by February, March is when it starts climbing back
[00:22:23] Joe Swartz: up. So I enjoyed some quiet time in the gym this morning because you know, five o'clock in the morning.
There aren't many people in the gym, but next week, the gym, even at that time will be packed. So everyone, everyone over the next couple of weeks will be. Um, getting on the bikes and lifting the weights and doing all kinds of things and, um, and that starts to slide away. But I think you're right. I think that the pandemic for a lot of reasons, both from a food security standpoint, um, economic standpoint, um, but, but a general health and that's, I think, I think one of the things that, that [00:23:00] with, you know, we're going on two years now with COVID and I think that there really hasn't been enough discussion about.
And wellness and nutrition is such an important part of that. And as CA growers, we've got a tremendous opportunity and a responsibility to be putting out, um, high quality products, pesticide free products, um, because you know, ultimately, and I think, I think we've seen this and obviously. COVID has become so ridiculously political and people have really retreated to their sides.
And I've seen so many people, you know, fighting over, you know, so many different things related to it. What's important. What's not, what should we do? What should we not do? Who's doing what it gets crazy. So at the end of the day, our industry is, is, you know, going to play a very big role and. You know, kind of changing how we produce and distribute food, but also how we impact human health.
So I think that that going forward. [00:24:00] Education, uh, as it relates to nutrition promotion, uh, of, of better nutrition, better eating. I think people, like you say, I think people are getting it, but as growers, as people who are looking to operate these businesses, I think that there's some responsibility and some opportunity to educate people even more so
[00:24:18] Nick Greens: to encourage word of mouth.
Right. If you know, microgreens are. Have you told five people about it, like just take the time and tell five people and tell them to tell five people.
[00:24:28] Joe Swartz: That's a great, yeah, that's a great point. I used the one when my kids were younger and we used to go into the elementary school to pick them up and be, you know, talking to parents and.
Yeah, there was lots of different parent groups and, and, and, and lots of people coming in and, you know, people were always interested. They knew what I did, and they were interested in, you know, you know, in the middle of winter then, you know, we've got a greenhouse here in north Amherst, full of fresh produce.
And, and just talking to people about that and talking to people about our production methods, and this kind of goes to our. [00:25:00] Conversation about social media and how people get to know their farmers. And so, so it can be as simple. Obviously social media is a great tool, but it can be as simple as talking to some of the people in your community.
I know people that, that talk to, um, people in their church groups, um, there's different social groups, sports
[00:25:17] Nick Greens: libraries, even libraries.
[00:25:19] Joe Swartz: Absolutely. I'm actually going to be speaking, uh, next week, uh, an elderly, um, communal. Uh, in my town and they're very interested in knowing about, you know, what, what they're hearing about controlled environment ag and, you know, newer farming techniques and all that.
And so, um, they've already sent me lists of questions and it's awesome.
[00:25:41] Nick Greens: That's amazing. No, that's literally amazing. I, I really liked that.
[00:25:46] Joe Swartz: And so as growers, um, you know, that's, that's something that I think that we all need to do a better job of, or at least to do more of. And so if you're a grower out there, or if, even if you're looking to become a [00:26:00] grower, talking to anyone, you can, I mean, obviously you have to within limits.
Um, there's always that creepy factor when you start talking to people, um, too, too much and too often. So go out there, talk to. Let people know what you're doing. And, um, and we've got some great things coming and we're really looking forward to talking to you more bottom. Um, Stephen Ritz is going to be coming on next.
We're going to be having great conversations with Stephen, finding out what he's doing and, um, please continue to send any questions. So, um, over the next couple of weeks, ask the experts. We're going to want to hear the topics that you want to hear discuss. And we're going to have some round tables with some long-time industry veteran.
I'm going to be talking to some more people in academia and we're going to be talking to real growers. So until next time, everyone, thanks very much for spending some time with us. And we look forward to speaking with you again very soon. Have a great day, everyone.