"When I embarked on this journey, I focused on high-quality, crunchiness, texture, flavor and leaf health. We are talking about a product that did not exist. It is only categorized as fresh-cut as it is 'accidentally' ready to eat, but it is a different variety: leaves are thicker, dryer and with no mechanical damage. You have to try it," reported Giuseppe Battagliola (in the photo), founder of "La Linea Verde" and historic entrepreneur for the fresh-cut segment, as he presented a new initiative - Kilometro Verde, an innovative Vertical Farming startup. Battagliola approached this new project with his usual passion, yet further stimulated by the values of high-quality, health, ethics and the environment.
"Developing this project required a long journey with research that will last for years to come. It is a new sector, which is still evolving precisely because it is linked with technology which, as we know, will never stop developing."
Battagliola took his first steps in the fresh produce sector in 1991 when he founded "La Linea Verde" SPA which, over the years, has become a leader in the domestic and international fresh produce segment. His natural propensity towards innovation and the awareness of the strategic importance of diversification have led him to investing in a startup - Kilometro Verde Vertical Farms.
Indoor vertical farming boasts multiple advantages: it enables cultivation while exponentially limiting water consumption and redeveloping the land and abandoned areas. It cancels seasonality and helps grow produce 365 days a year, thus meeting the needs created by climate change. It helps obtain larger yields per square meter and produce of a higher quality thanks to the germination of untreated seeds, which generate plantlets in an indoor environment where all parameters are monitored: from the light source and ventilation, to humidity and thermal factors, down to low CO2 emissions. The salad obtained is nicer, crunchier, more flavorful, uncontaminated, ready to eat and with a longer shelf life.
"We are talking about food, after all, so it being nice to eat is the most important parameter. This product is a whole other category both visually and substantially. It will introduce a new range to the market: it is a sort of healthier, cleaner and more sustainable segment, similar to the organic one. We are not replacing the fresh-cut segment, we are extending it towards unexplored territories that can meet demand that is yet unsatisfied by the traditional segment."
"Hydroponic crops and vertical farms boast a series of unique eco-sustainable characteristics, this is why they perfectly match the vision and values that I cultivated throughout my life. With this project, we want to place ourselves within a new product category. Although Vertical Farming is not new, there are those who approached this new type of agriculture focusing on its intrinsic innovative aspect rather than being customer oriented as Kilometro Verde is. The attitude towards experimentation is typical of all entrepreneurs, the trend is to raise the bar - I want to give value to results, without forgetting to promote the uniqueness of the journey that has led me to achieving them."
Vertical Farming has yet to express its full potential especially when it comes to energy sources, the backbone of this activity. Kilometro Verde is well-aware of this and has entered an agreement with a leading energy producer/distributor for the creation of a 10 Megawatt solar field. The carbon footprint is also achieved thanks to environmental mitigation, i.e. recycling intended in its wider concept to create a company based on circular economy.
The objective of the project's R&D phase was to put in place a journey with precise objectives concerning the future production: distinctiveness, flavor, food safety and the right price/quality ratio. This is because the strategy is not to aim at a small market segment, but rather at a wider share. The variety was chosen with a large seed company, a strategic partner, with the objective of obtaining plants more suitable for the context.
The optimization of management costs was also important and involved various specializations: agronomics, engineering, food technology and energy saving also when it comes to lighting systems.
The startup will be a virtuous example of 'local production' as everything - from sowing to bagging - occurs within the company.
FreshPlaza-FP - Where will the first facilities be set up?
Giuseppe Battagliola - GB - The pilot facility is in Manerbio (Brescia), which has been at the center of considerable R&D activities over the past three years when it comes not only to varieties, but also in terms of engineering and energy saving to reduce the carbon footprint. The main objective was to obtain the best price/quality ratio starting from a product that stands out thanks to its considerable flavor, crunchiness and shelf-life. Afterwards, we started work on an existing factory in Verolanuova (BS) covering 11,500 sq m. Our philosophy is precisely that of starting from salvaging an urban area or else, reducing transport to a minimum.
FP - How many and what kind of people will they need?
GB - Although Kilometro Verde Vertical Farm is an agricultural business, it is highly technological, so it needs various people from the research, management and monitoring sectors. Those who work in the farm are highly qualified and, for the most part, hold a degree in Agronomy and Engineering in all its forms. We are expecting to employ around 60 people.
FP - What will be the relationship between the startup and La Linea Verde? Will the finished products be sold to different brands?
GB - Due to its nature, this product cannot be compared with fresh-cut products. As I mentioned, we start with the seeds, set up the nursery and grow our products in a heavily-protected indoor environment where all elements are constantly monitored. This is an essential condition as we do not use any kind of plant protection product. Lastly, the products will be placed in compostable bags that can be disposed of as paper. The fact that the products do not need washing is a simple consequence of the high technology used for cultivation. These are all reasons why this can be considered a new category, thus needing its own brand.
FP - Is this a project that could become the fulcrum also of a CER (Renewable Energetic Community)?
GB - One of the most important bets of a Vertical Farm concerns the energy source when it comes from both the economic and ecologic points of view. Our project, for example, is based on two energy sources, both of which are considered sustainable: a 10-megawatt solar field and a tri-generation system that produces warm and cold water as well as electricity. The two strategic lines, in fact, produce exceeding energy at certain times of day which is input into the network and returned thanks to an agreement. As we are located near an industrial estate, we are looking at setting up a CER (Renewable Energetic Community) in the future. We were also lucky enough to work with a municipal administrator that cares about the environment and which is keen on making available nearby public structures for the CER project.
FP - Many people set up startups, but what do you believe are the best tools to give continuity and perspective to them?
GB - Being innovative is a basic approach. The vision and creativity are perceivable in the exterior phase but, more in depth, there is some healthy dissatisfaction that leads you to challenging yourself. However, you need people who believe in themselves and are passionate about the endeavor to give continuity. The cherry on top is always the fact that the consequence of your work can continuously create value for everyone when it comes to both the business and the social sphere.
FP - Were you inspired by models for this innovative project?
GB - In all honesty, the actual source of inspiration was the constant and careful observation of consumption habits, the sensitivity towards healthy products and the respect for the environment. It is a well-known fact that, of the many products launched, only few are successful. I have learned this the hard way. But, this time, I started from the consumer. Along the way, I literally fell in love with an incredible salad and with the fascinating complexity of creating a specific habitat so that it could express its full potential. The payoff is in fact "L'insalata che non c'era" (The salad that did not exist).