Q&A WITH THE WEEKLY “SABATO SERA”
Alessandro Pasini, President of C-LED, responds
Indoor cultivation applied to retail outlets. How far has experimentation in this field gone?
Experimentation in indoor, in-store microgreen, small fruit and vegetable cultivation is still in its infancy. Our research is super-innovative. It produces state-of-the-art, patented technology that aims to give large-scale retail chains the sort of plant growing methodologies usually reserved for professionals.
Realistically, when can we expect to see the first supermarkets equipped with the system?
Initial point-of-sale tests are expected to begin within the year, while widespread use of Cefla shelving for growing purposes will depend on the willingness of the large-scale retail industry to invest in the technology. To date we already have – to the huge satisfaction of our customers – Growing production systems up and running in some restaurant kitchens, providing them with high quality “zero distance” products that couldn’t be fresher.
So how would the products on sale be cultivated? Will shop assistants have to do a bit of farming?
Cultivation of in-store products will be fully automated. The shop will receive trays containing microgreen seeds, pre-sown in a substrate. These trays will then be positioned on special ‘Growing Unit’ shelves. Seeds germinate and grow in a matter of days, receiving just the right amount of water and the right light. Customers will be able to choose from among a broad selection of microgreens, consuming products just moments after picking them, thus keeping their nutritional characteristics intact. It’s a system that will see all of us become ‘farmers’ to a very limited extent! I think that the experience of seeing plants grow before eating them, and enjoying the relative health and environmental benefits, will play a key role. I’m so convinced of this that I think such growing units should be given high visibility in retail outlets, accompanied by info videos and recipes, almost as if they were communicative, educational showcases.
What type of products do you think will be “shelf-cultivated”?
Our research puts emphasis on microgreens in general, especially varieties with clear health benefits. Red cabbage has well-known anti-tumour and bone protection qualities as it is rich in antioxidants, nutrients, vitamins and minerals. It also tastes delicious. In gastronomy, cultivating such plants is only a recent development, but one that is becoming ever-more popular – and we have a key role to play by contributing our considerable skills and leading the way. With other types of cultivation the only limits are those posed by the plant’s size. Tomatoes, for example, can only be grown in greenhouses because they need space on a scale that would be unthinkable in retail outlets. So when it comes to on-the-shelf growing, it’s simpler to think in terms of lettuce, aromatic plants and small fruits.
tanze nutrienti, vitamine e minerali.. E oltretutto hanno un ottimo sapore. La coltivazione di questo tipo di piante è, in gastronomia, una grande novità che sta prendendo sempre più piede, sulla quale noi possiamo dire la nostra con notevole competenza e in anticipo, creando una tendenza. Sulle altre tipologie di coltivazioni non ci sono limiti se non quelli dati dallo spazio occupato dalla pianta. Un pomodoro, è evidente, si può coltivare solo in serra perché occupa uno spazio impensabile in un punto vendita. Più semplice, ad esempio, pensare alla coltivazione a scaffale di lattuga, di piante aromatiche o di piccoli frutti.
So how, in practice, will the shopping be done? Will supermarket customers be bending down to uproot lettuces? Or will they go home with a box containing the plant in its soil?
We’ve got two solutions in mind. In the first, the tray grown in the growing unit is closed by a worker and placed in a sales area. The consumer takes the tray containing the plants (still rooted in their substrate) home, where they are cut and eaten. In the second solution, the customer goes to an area of the shop where there’s a small greenhouse containing, for example, aromatic plants or lettuce. Here, consumers are free to choose and cut products as they please, pop them in a bag and then take them home.
How would this change the food distribution chain
Systems which use growing units are designed to be complementary to existing supply chains. We want to provide retailers with new food retailing approaches that offer outstanding value and are designed to promote health and environmental sustainability. It’s a supply chain that still needs a lot of work doing, and we expect to refine it via the experimentation we’re carrying out with both customers and fruit and vegetable growers.