Every other week, we follow a student from one of our Interdisciplinary Thesis Labs. This week: Giovanni Mercatelli, master student Industrial Ecology at TU Delft & Leiden University from our Sustainable Horticulture Lab organised together with the World Horti Centre.
With my master thesis, I want to help advance the development of sustainable and efficient healthy food production systems.
Hi all! My name is Giovanni Mercatelli, and I am from Bologna, a charming medieval city in the north of Italy. Between Leiden University and the Delft University of Technology, I am taking a master’s degree in Industrial Ecology, a multidisciplinary education that takes a systemic approach to the world's complex problems by integrating technical, environmental, and social aspects.
With my master thesis, I want to help advance the development of sustainable and efficient healthy food production systems. To do so, I am taking a company perspective to explore how vertical farming companies in Italy can reach market large-scale diffusion. The research questions that I am trying to answer are then the following: What barriers are Italian vertical farming companies facing to reach market large-scale diffusion? What are the factors influencing the recognized barriers? What are the possible niche introduction strategies for vertical farming companies’ large-scale diffusion in Italy?
Joining the Sustainable Horticulture Lab, an interdisciplinary thesis lab aiming to advance sustainable food production systems, seemed a logical step to take to get closer to my ambition. For example, in the last session with the program, we visited Koppert Cress, a Dutch company in the Westland involved in greenhouse production of freshly grown seedlings edible leaves, and flowers. Kindly, we were offered a tasting of their products, which, for the record, were incredible, a punch of flavor. That such small plants could hold such a strong taste was surprising. Furthermore, as I could later understand, these little plants are very healthy as often have higher nutrient levels than more mature vegetables.
An interesting matter that I learned during the experience, is that despite the beneficial characteristics of these products, Koppert Cress's main customers are, at least for now, only restaurants. The culinary education among the chef’s brigades allows restaurants to take full advantage of such products’ qualities, while the remaining portion of potential customers like me do not have the knowledge and neither the awareness of how to use such plants yet. That makes it hard for the company to land its products in other markets, like grocery stores. Reflecting on my thesis, as Koppert Cress, also vertical farming companies grow micro plants and leafy greens high in taste and nutrients. However, as I am learning, one of the barriers to vertical farming’s diffusion is indeed the difficulty to expand in the market due to the customers’ lack of education on the use of these nutritious micro plants.