Bio-Planet innovates with sustainable herbs from its own vertical farm
After two years of testing, it’s a first for Bio-Planet as it markets herbs grown on its own vertical farm. In this closed system, plants are grown in rows one above the other. This method is pesticide-free and requires 90% less water and 20 times less surface area than traditional growing methods. The fresh basil from the private label Boni Selection will be on sale from 4 March in the 31 Bio-Planet stores and via Collect&Go at a price of EUR 1.89 each. Coriander will be added later this year.
Minimal ecological footprint
Colruyt Group is the first retailer in Belgium to have developed and put into practice its own vertical farm. The group sees a lot of potential in this new technology, because it only requires a very small ecological footprint to grow herbs. For the same amount of plants, for example, 20 times less space is needed than using traditional methods, meaning a saving of valuable agricultural land and natural areas. This is not insignificant given that around 80% of the world's agricultural land is already in use. By integrating the farm in one of the group's distribution centres in Halle, it has also been possible to reduce the number of transport kilometres to one fifth.
“We are already using 90% less water and 50% less nutrients than traditional growing methods. An added benefit is that we only use purified rainwater, which we collect on the roof of our distribution centre," says Fabrice Gobbato, Managing Director of Bio-Planet. The low-cost LED lighting, developed in-house, together with the innovative ventilation system make the farm very energy-efficient. What’s more, the installation runs on 100% green electricity generated by wind turbines and solar panels.
“All these aspects make the farm and the basil plants very sustainable, and that is the most important factor for Bio-Planet,” says Fabrice Gobbato. "After all, we want to offer our customers products that are sustainable, local and innovative. We believe that vertical farming could be the answer to our customers’ rising expectations in terms of responsible consumption. We’ve made a start with basil and later this year, will add coriander to the range."
The high-tech installation has space for 250,000 plants. This is more than enough to meet Bio-Planet’s demand. The basil plants are for sale exclusively in the 31 shops of Bio-Planet and via the webshop. Customers can find the plants in the own brand Boni Selection, which focuses on providing a sustainable range. "Although these fresh herbs are not labelled as organic, they definitely still deserve a place in our range," explains Fabrice Gobbato. "They are grown from bioseed and we intentionally decided to use a particularly sustainable and compostable substrate made from organic waste streams, even though this is not yet organic.” The basil plants are also grown naturally, without pesticides. They are therefore 100% pure and the quality remains high throughout the year, regardless of the weather conditions."
The plants have a fresh and strong basil flavour, which was also determined by the Bio-Planet customers on the basis of taste tests. Bio-Planet has also worked on recyclable packaging, which provides customers with information on how to look after the basil plant so that it lasts as long as possible. This is one way in which Bio-Planet is doing its bit to prevent food waste at the customer's home.
Home-grown innovative technology
The vertical farming technology was fully developed by the group's own R&D department. For the last 2 years, biotechnologists and researchers have been tweaking the process to find the optimal growing conditions for the herbs. They know perfectly what the plants need at what time and optimally control the supply of air, light, water and nutrients. As a result, the herbs grow to maturity faster than with traditional growing methods and the farm does not consume more energy and raw materials than strictly necessary.
For Colruyt Group, vertical farming is not a leap into the unknown. Within the group there was already a great deal of knowledge in the field of renewable energy, water purification, LED lighting, ventilation, cooling and automation. Knowledge of all these techniques is central to the Group's self-developed 'vertical farming' technique. Additionally, the group's R&D department works closely with knowledge institutions, such as UGent and the KULeuven light laboratory, to underpin the project with a solid scientific basis. In addition, a research project is currently running in collaboration with VLAIO, the Flemish Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. ”In order to scale up or experiment with other varieties over time, more research, investment and development are needed,” concludes Fabrice Gobbato.
Bio-Planet is the 100 % sustainable supermarket chain of Colruyt Group. The chain offers around 6,000 organic, ecological and environmentally friendly products: from fresh fruit & vegetables, bakery products, meat, pasta and beverages to cleaning products, books and beauty products. These products are selected with the utmost care in terms of organic farming, health and ecological impact. Bio-Planet only stocks what has been made with respect for people and the environment.
In 2001, Bio-Planet opened its first branch in Kortrijk. Today there are some thirty stores all over Belgium and you can also shop online via Collect&Go, Colruyt Group’s online shopping service. This way, the supermarket chain wants to make 'conscious consumption' accessible to everyone. Moreover, the stores are always built using sustainable methods and materials. Bio-Planet employs more than 500 people.