The horticultural sector faces great challenges in the coming years. In this new column GreenTech asks a few young entrepreneurs in the sector about the opportunities and threats they think their company has to deal with. In this article, the first in this section, GreenTech talks to Stijn Baan of Koppert Cress about the value of data management and Artificial Intelligence.
Koppert Cress is a front runner when it comes to innovation. The producer of cresses does not only know what’s going on in horticulture, but also what is happening beyond the sector, not least because of the enthusiasm and curiosity of Stijn Baan. Stijn represents the new generation in the company. Asked about this, Stijn indicates that he thinks these challenges in the horticulture sector are in the field of data. Currently, horticultural data is being used to optimize processes within individual companies. The young entrepreneur however sees ample opportunities to explore the market and to get to know the end user.
Google Home in the kitchen
The opportunities with regards to voice controlled information in the kitchen were presented during the recent trade fair Horecava in RAI Amsterdam. Koppert Cress implemented this Voice technology by using the digital assistant Google Home. ‘We introduced the channel ‘Smaakmakers’ (Dutch word for Tastemakers) via which chefs can ask questions about our products and its applications,’ says Stijn. ‘The value of this is, that as a producer, you can both receive and send information. Based on the questions asked, you get an overall picture of where and how your products are consumed and what the specific needs are. Now we often don’t know exactly where our products are going. By using mentioned technology you can receive this kind of information so that you can take the user needs into account and search more efficiently for local suppliers.’ Stijn thinks this Voice technology offers many opportunities for his own company but also for others. ‘That is why we gave the channel a neutral name, so everybody can join us.’
Like his father Rob Baan, Stijn was destined to be an entrepreneur. He makes sure that he’s informed about the latest developments, recognizes opportunities when they arise and stay ahead of the curve. The search for an unique added value of a product is certainly important in these processes. ’With the cresses we produce now, we also deliver taste and decoration, but the next step is that we sell health. ’Good information is essential in this route’. Stijn is convinced that tomorrow’s entrepreneur will base his decisions on data.
Register and analyze
The conviction that tomorrow’s entrepreneur will base his decisions on data is being confirmed by various developments which already took place in the sector or are currently happening. The company 30MHz supplies wireless, real time crop monitoring systems. As a grower you get a complete insight in what is happening with your crops in regards to climate control. You can easily analyze data and within seconds configure notifications that make it possible to react quickly to radical changes in the climate in the greenhouse. Another initiative is LetsGrow.com, which offers the possibility to register and analyze production related data. Via an online platform, the grower can review data related to the greenhouse climate, crop production, labor and energy use. In this way, the overview allows growers to immediately observe the circumstances that led to a successful crop. It is also possible to compare current data with previous periods and with data of other greenhouse growers. As a result, growers can learn from each other and optimize cultivation processes.
Stijn Baan would like to go one step further. In his opinion, Artificial Intelligence is of priceless value when it comes to obtaining insights from large quantities of data. ‘We developed a system that collects publicly posted pictures of dishes on Instagram. With the help of Artificial Intelligence the system analyzes if there is cress visible on the dish. By now we have reviewed tens of thousands of pictures of dishes that contain cresses. That way we can see who is preparing these dishes and where, when and how this happens. In addition we can also spot trends, which is useful in developing our assortment.’ The young entrepreneur thinks that this kind of data collection is indispensable to the horticultural sector, but entrepreneurs must be willing to invest. ‘If all growers stick to only growing their crops, not much is going to happen. That is why I challenge colleagues to experiment and go forward. And if we cooperate we can do more. We are really happy with the support of the analytic consultancy firm Gibbs. Data collection is not that difficult, but to translate these data into action and taking things forward, that is often not so easy. Therefore, if we, as a sector, can jointly tackle this issue we can achieve much more.’