How to Choose Greenhouse Vegetables That Will Captivate Your Customers

Nature Fresh Farms TOMS Tomatoes
Nature Fresh Farms is one grower who takes advantage of local markets in Ohio to offer its TOMZ snacking tomatoes at times of the year when they typically woudn’t be available.

Deciding upon a moneymaking greenhouse vegetable to grow is a daunting prospect. It might be tempting to grow a little bit of everything to protect yourself against making the wrong choice. However, if your end goal is profits, now is the time to be picky about your vegetables.

A good strategy will help you choose the right assortment for you — one that yields high monetary returns. With hundreds of vegetable varieties to choose from, you have to limit your options to get the most value for your time and the best returns on your growing space.

1. Narrow Your List of Choices

One way to focus your list is to concentrate on greenhouse vegetables that play to the trends. For instance, consumers can’t seem to get enough of locally grown, fresh salad greens. Chris Powell, Owner of Good Harvest Farms in Strasburg, PA, offers a selection of salad greens to his customers and says that along with herbs, they are one of his biggest profit makers.

“The seed is relatively inexpensive and these crops require very little fertilizer or chemicals. We grow them relatively cool, which helps with heating costs,” he says. “Greens also have a quick crop time, and any misshapen heads can be turned into a spring mix, so we have no waste when harvesting.”

PanAmerican Seed is working to make it easier for growers to offer a mix of lettuce varieties by placing them into one pellet. This saves labor when sowing and improves uniformity, and the postharvest quality of the lettuce improves. The company hopes to provide precision pellets of herbs and mixed salads for professional growers within the next one to two years.

2. Herbs are in High Demand

Herbs are naturally complementary to vegetables and just about as popular. More people are buying fresh herbs than ever before.

“The concept of having fresh herbs available 24/7, 365 days a year is appealing to consumers,” says Jen Kuziw, Regional Sales Manager at Dümmen Orange, which offers a broad range of herb selections.

3. Play to the Snacking Trend

Houweling’s Tomatoes, with operations in Canada, California, and Utah, capitalizes on the snacking vegetable trend, focusing on delivering premium, high-flavor varieties that deliver a wow experience with every bite.

“The snacking category is showing significant growth because it hits many of the consumer appeal points,” says Houweling’s Chief Marketing Officer David Bell. “They are healthy, can be eaten on the go, tossed whole in a salad, offer sweeter and more complex flavor, and thanks to greenhouse technology, can be grown locally, year-round, anywhere.”

PanAmerican Seed is currently trialing four different seedless peppers for snacking. Snacking peppers are a good fit for greenhouse growing because it is easier to avoid pollen contamination when they are isolated in a greenhouse or high tunnel.

4. Ensure Your Product is High Quality

Bell says consumer demand for locally grown vegetables has created a shift where growers are investing in new acreage for vegetable growing, from traditional, concentrated greenhouse-growing regions to more expansion in new areas where the local advantage can win consumer preference.

“Locally grown products can be picked riper, handled less, and reduce supply chain time, which results in a better product once the consumer gets it home,” he says.

NatureFresh Farms, which is based in Ontario but recently expanded into the U.S. market in Ohio, is a vertically integrated grower that picks, packs, and ships under its own label. Marketing Manager/Director of Marketing Chris Veillon says consumers long for quality, flavor, and consistency of supply of the same product from the same grower, week in and week out. A break in consistency can be detrimental to growth, so NatureFresh ensures that whatever commodity gets packed under its label meets high standards.

NatureFresh has also worked hard over the past two years to market its locally grown brand with its #GreenInTheCity tour. Veillon says it takes a considerable number of resources to develop a brand, and growers have to differentiate their product offerings to ensure that their customers hear their message.

“Variety is equally important, he says. “New vegetable items, like our Ohio-grown TOMZ snacking tomatoes, have re-invigorated the category with locally grown products being offered during periods of the year where they didn’t exist.”

Tomato Mixology Collection (Hort Couture)
Tomato Mixology Collection (Hort Couture) is a mix of uniquely colored and striped tomatoes of an heirloom style on a hybrid, indeterminate plant.

Know Your Customer

In addition to capitalizing on snacking and eat-local trends, remember that consumers want to know more about the food they eat and where it comes from, and they’re not afraid to try something out of the ordinary.

“There is always a need for high-yielding, nice looking vegetables, but recently small growers have been asking for more heirlooms because they sell well at farmers’ markets,” says Hande Saganak, Grafting Production Manager at Plug Connection.

Hort Couture specializes in unique greenhouse vegetables and novelty items not found in your typical grocery store. Its Tomato Mixology Collection includes some selections of uniquely colored and striped tomatoes of an heirloom style on a hybrid, indeterminate plant.

Consumers also place more importance on color and flavor in their vegetables than ever before. Paying attention to these areas will keep customers coming back, says Heather Kibble, Manager of the Home Grown Division at Sakata Vegetables, which supplies greenhouse- and field-grown vegetable varieties to growers. She also recommends quick-turn crops like salad greens, brassica, and vining crops, saying that growers should look for varieties that they can get to market quickly, to keep customers returning again and again.

Know Your Profit Channel

One of the most vital decisions when choosing vegetables that sell is deciding if you have a market for them at all.

“Investigate the market you are intending to sell to and make sure it can pay the price you need to make a profit,” Powell says. “This is the number one mistake I see growers make. They grow the crop and then try to find a profitable outlet for it when it should be the other way around.”

What’s New?

Here are a few of the new vegetable varieties to consider for your product mix.

Mizuna ‘Miz America’ (Sakata Vegetables)
Available for 2018, ‘Miz America’ works well for salads. It has a burgundy leaf color and a unique leaf shape.

Basil Pesto Series (Hort Couture)
The Pesto Series exhibits basils with unique coloration, habits, and leaf shapes. The five varieties include: Black Patina, Bambino Green, Bambino Purple, Pesto Perpetuo, and Macchiato.

Tomato Mixology Collection (Hort Couture)
A mix of uniquely colored and striped tomatoes of an heirloom style on a hybrid, indeterminate plant.

‘Gherking’ Cucumber (PanAmerican Seed)
A parthenocarpic (plants produce fruit without insect pollination) variety with good disease resistance, ‘Gherking’ sets multiple fruit on each node to increase the amount of fruit you get off one stem.

Try-Basil Precision Pellet (PanAmerican Seed)
PanAmerican is converting its Suddenly Salad mixes to precision pellets. The Try-Basil pellet is a mix of three different basil varieties for a nice full look.

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