Following its first expansion since it began harvesting in 2017, one Alberta, Canada-based greenhouse grower is anticipating now producing some 18-20 million heads a year.
Coaldale, Alberta-based Whole Leaf began seeding an additional five acres in the middle of February and it now has 11 acres in production.
While the company sells its greens also in trios including a Crispy and Crunchy trio and a Tender and Tasty Trio, one trend the company sees is an increasing interest in red lettuce particularly.
“The red leaf has proven to be incredibly popular with consumers. We call that Bright and Juicy Red,” Whole Leaf’s Rindi Bristol. “It’s all about changing consumers’ perceptions of red-leaf lettuce. Most consumers feel it’s bitter and not always attractive-looking but we’ve been growing a merlot-colored red leaf that’s sweet and crunchy with a shelf life.”
The interest in red
Bristol says retailers have told her that red leaf lettuce is seen as an item on store shelves that over the years has attracted less and less attention. “Once you harvest red leaf lettuce out of the field, it tends to fade fairly quickly. But with our LED hybrid lighting system, we’re working with the genetics of the lettuce and get it this really dark wine-colored lettuce that consumers have embraced.”
She also notes that with the newer greenhouse, there have been significant developments in technology to improve the growing conditions for all of the lettuces, which continue to be in demand. (She adds that demand is significantly higher than it was at this time last year for its greens. Pricing has also not changed since Whole Leaf started in 2017 because it’s still building its name and consumer acceptance.) “Our growers have managed a more specialized, more controlled climate than our original five-acre greenhouse,” she says.
Along with more controlled growing conditions, Bristol also sees more interest coming from the foodservice side of the industry for product. “There’s lots of interest coming from that side. There are multi-unit national chains and QSR restaurants also also looking for alternatives to field-grown lettuce,” she says. “It’s not just the home consumer that has a desire for a top quality lettuce experience.”
Meanwhile another development for Whole Leaf includes introducing new packaging. “With summer approaching, we’ll show our patriotic side and celebrate our Canadian roots with a combination of red, white and maple leaf-themed packaging. There’s no better way to celebrate summer in Canada with fresh greenhouse lettuce grown close to home,” Bristol adds.