The fruit and vegetable sector has a very special product segment which provides a multisensory component to food. It brings flavor nuances, shades of color, aromas, new textures and an attractive visual aesthetic. They are also a source of bioactive compounds, with numerous beneficial and even medicinal properties. We are talking about edible flowers, and Innoflower, which has already been devoted to them for five years now, is offering its new product lines to chefs and consumers this year.
Plot with mini pansies
"We have a very wide range, with 50 different species of edible flowers that we grow all year round. We have actually managed to keep both pansies and mini pansies in our catalogue for 12 months a year. We grow the flowers in our three farms, two of which are located in Zaragoza and the other in Soria. They are grown in different ways -under tunnels, under mesh or in the open ground- and in pots, which facilitates both the handling of the plants and the harvesting. We also collaborate with the Rey Ardid Foundation in the employment of people with handicaps," says Laura Carrera, CEO of the Soria-based company. "The world of edible flowers is very different from that of nursery flowers, because in addition to focusing on the plant, we focus on the health of the flower to offer a quality product and guarantee its traceability and food safety. In fact, we are the first edible flower company in all of northern Spain to obtain a GlobalG.A.P. certification."
Montañita, the brand under which fresh flowers are marketed.
After a successful journey since its beginnings, with Innoflower and its products recognized and awarded with numerous innovation and food awards, and continuous growth, the pandemic and the closure of the horeca channel were a turning point for the company. Until then, 90% of sales corresponded to fresh edible flowers, and 80-90% of those were made to that single channel. However, the company was not only able to overcome this slump, but is actually coming out of it stronger.
"It is undeniable that COVID hit us hard. We were losing all the investment we had made in the previous months, because we had planted in the months of October, November and December what we were going to sell in March, April and May, so we tried to stay positive and decided to try making the best use of all the time we suddenly had. At the end of April, most of the workers were on paid leave and we started to think about what we could do with all those flowers we had and were throwing away. That's how we gave shape to all our new processing lines," says Laura.
Edible flower lollies.
"In addition to continuing to market fresh and crystallized flowers, we have become the company with the widest range of dehydrated edible flowers in the world. We have created a line of pressed flowers that is unique in Spain and is being widely used in creative confectionery, and we have launched lollipops with pressed and crystallized flowers suitable for diabetics, which are in great demand. In fact, the demand has been so great that, at some points, we have had delivery times of up to a month for our orders. We have also launched a line of premium freeze-dried flowers in recyclable and reusable glass containers. Freeze-drying is a process by which flowers are preserved while maintaining their structure and composition, allowing them to retain their properties," says Laura.
Mint, tagete and lyophilized pansies
"We are also participating in a project with the Procerealtech group of the University of Valladolid, conducting a parameterization of the freeze-drying process of edible flowers. It is one of the first carried out in this area and is allowing us to study and look into the best conditions to obtain the best product."
Ingredients not just for chefs
Makro, the world's largest wholesale chain and a major supplier to the horeca channel in Europe, was Innoflower's main customer. However, the lockdowns and the move towards more home cooking brought edible flowers closer to consumers, a fact that was reflected in the company's marked increase in online sales.
"Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen an increase in the number of private customers, gastronomists and home chefs who have managed to create special menus with our flowers. The feedback from customers has also been impressive and very gratifying," says Innoflower's CEO. "Right now it is giving a great boost in the world of baking and Instagram has become a very important platform for our products. Our flowers are just ingredients, the chefs are the ones who create beauty in the dishes with them," says Laura.
Organic dried flowers and citrus fruits, an alchemic blend
Following a custom order from a French customer, Innoflower has also included in its range a line of organic dehydrated citrus fruits, which have gone from being a mere novelty to becoming another of the company's innovations.
"With the dehydrated flowers we have created blends for infusions. Mini pansies, for instance, are loaded with polyphenols, natural antioxidant compounds in flowers that give the water a turquoise green color when infused, and when dehydrated lemon, which is acidic, is added, the pH of the infusion changes and the color turns pink," says the professional. "Many customers have already had the chance to try our dehydrated citrus and flower infusions after Unica Group, with which we have collaborated, included them in its Healthy Box."