While growers agree greenhouse vegetables offer benefits above field-grown produce, many believe consumers are still not identifying a purchase as greenhouse-, hothouse- or shade house-grown.
“I don’t know that the average consumer would be aware that it was grown in the shade house,” said Greg Cardamone, general manager for vegetables at L&M Cos., Raleigh, N.C.
“I am not sure the consumer would know it, but I hope they would notice the quality difference and continue to purchase based on that.”
Bryant Ambelang, vice president of sales and marketing at Desert Glory Ltd., San Antonio, said some consumers are beginning to identify greenhouse products, but there is a long way to go.
“There is definitely segmentation going on amongst consumers,” he said. “They are starting to identify there is a difference.”
Ambelang said retailers like Giant, Safeway and Kroger understand the difference between greenhouse and field grown products. However, he said, consumers don’t know the difference, and they don’t care.
“What they want to know is, ‘Does it always look the same, taste the same, and is it safe?’” he said.
Consumers are too busy to search the entire produce section to find the right tomato. Grower techniques and distribution processes are sound enough that consistent quality and taste can be provided, Ambelang said.
Tim Cunniff, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Backyard Farms LLC, Madison, Maine, promotes product primarily in the Northeastern market.
“We try to keep the food on the vine as long as possible so we don’t have to pick it to compensate for long travel,” he said. “If we do that, then we are able to get size, color and flavor as opposed to if we had to backtrack it to travel 3-4 days.”
The result, Cunniff said, is the consumer seeing the value of a “decent product 12 months out of the year.”
“If we provide consistently a high-quality piece of fruit, consumers get into a rhythm,” he said.
Cunniff also said the buy local angle definitely helps, especially when competing against products from Mexico, Holland or Florida during the winter.
Another marketing edge: additional safety of greenhouses as closed environments with input controls.
“It gives us somewhat of an edge for buyers that are mindful of the differential,” said Doug Kling, chief sales and marketing officer for Village Farms, Eatontown, N.J. “I think as hydroponic growers we haven’t done as much as we could be doing to publicize the benefits as an industry.”