Cristian Tudor, Co-Founder & CEO Ultragreens, sat down with Business Review to tell the story of the Romanian company that produces microplants by growing them through BIO processes, without pesticides or other chemicals.
- Can you tell us when and how the Ultragreens story began?
First of all, the Ultragreens story started with a dream and a lot of passion. We cannot ignore the need for financing but without that hunger and drive to succeed, without the right team and partners and that one big dream to be the best micro-plant producer in Romania, none of the things we have accomplished today would have been possible. More precisely, it all began in 2014 with many experiments in a small balcony and then in the parents’ yard. The first investments were made in classic greenhouses (2014-2017) and the turning point was in 2018 when the company started to invest in technology. This effort paid off and the products were listed in the biggest distribution chains such as Mega Image, Auchan, Carrefour, Kaufland, Cora. The new modern production facilities allowed the diversification of the cultivated types of plants. Now the company produces microgreens, culinary edible decorations (like edible flowers), aromatic plants and baby leaves. And we are proud to say that the entire growth process is 100% natural and it is controlled entirely from the amount of light the plants receive, the amount of water and the climatic environment.
- For those who are not familiar with this subject, what are microplants specifically?
Microplants are young plants, in the first stage of development and studies have proven that they contain up to 40% more nutrients than the edible parts of the mature plants. Moreover, almost every species has particular substances that help fight various diseases, from cancer to diabetes. This is why it is so important for us at Ultragreens to have all our growing processes 100% natural in order to keep all of these attributes intact. Various organizations consider microgreens as the food of the future and they are already known as “superfoods”.
- How do you feel the pulse of micro-plant consumption? Are Romanians open-minded to this type of product? Are they correctly informed?
Over the last years, the trend has been for people to try to choose a healthier lifestyle as much as possible. They are becoming more and more aware of the negative effects of processed food and they tend to think twice before they go shopping and they try to opt for healthier products, rich in natural vitamins and minerals. We have found that people do not know the real benefits of these small and cute plants that they have often encountered on restaurant plates and many considered them just “decoration”. But these little plants are not only a cute and colorful culinary decorations, they are superfoods that contain more nutrients than mature plants. This being said, one of our targets this year is to educate the consumer regarding the benefits of micro-pants consumption.
- You are the Romanian producers considered pioneers of vertical farming technology, otherwise known as “vertical farming”. What does this type of farming mean exactly?
The United Nations Organization signals the need to produce more food with more efficient management of resources and with a reduced impact on the environment. This is what vertical farming offers: growing crops in vertically stacked layers with all parameters inside the production unit being controlled: water, air, and light. Ultragreens vision is to respond to this global problem with its vertical farming solutions, anywhere in the world, offering agricultural production facilities that respond to the challenges of sustainable development identified by the United Nations. We do this by using 95% less water than in traditional agriculture and also by saving arable land because our cultures are indoors and they are layered. We also reduce the carbon footprint because we carefully choose the locations of our Green Hubs and strategically develop them near the logistics platforms, as close as possible to the consumer.
- You are currently developing a GreenHub in Tatarani. What implications does this step have for the company and what are the benefits that it brings for agriculture in Romania?
By the end of this year, we have planned the launch in Tatarani, Romania, one of the largest vertical Green Hubs in Europe – the production process will be fully automated – 6,500 sq m and a ground footprint of 864 sq m. Alongside the R&D team, we have developed a technology of vertical greenhouses in which the entire circuit is closed, automated and equipped with custom-made artificial intelligence software that ensures control of the plant growth process from seeding to packaging. It offers traceability, predictability and the guarantee of a production 365 days a year. This is a big step for our company and it will allow us to guarantee quality and constancy in delivery.
- What is your current market segment? More precisely, do you activate as a supplier on the Horeca market or do you address the consumer directly, in the classic retail area?
At the beginning of the activity, mainly in the first 3 years, the business growth was mainly sustained by the development and acquirement of B2B market in HoReCa industry with access to IKA distribution in Selgros and Metro. Once we developed and started to invest in top technology and production facilities, this led to the expansion and we were able to address new markets, reaching our consumers directly in distribution chains to which hey have easy access in the city.
- What are the development plans for the year 2023 in Romania but also abroad?
Since the popularity of micro-plants was not very high a few years ago, we will continue to develop strategies to educate people about the benefits of their consumption. We remain focused in the future on what we do best: providing consumers with top products grown 100% natural with no chemicals or pesticides and no compromises. We are already in discussions for the development of a new Hub with Kaufland in Turda and we will also start the construction of a Green Hub in Bulgaria. Further plans are in full with our partners in the Czech Republic. We are optimistic about the future and that is why we are focusing our efforts and channeling our investments to provide the market with high-quality products, as our target audience has been used to until now.