Kenya’s Bloom Growers benefits from on-farm, energy-efficient cold room for export-grade herbs 

Driven by the increasing demand and growth of culinary herbs and spices in the international markets, the industry has seen a meteoric rise. Currently, the European Union stands as the second-largest market for seasonings, spices, and herbs in the world, accounting for a value of about 1.2 billion euros. According to the Centre for Promotion of Imports from Developing countries (CBI), the EU imports 97% of its herbs and spices from developing countries. In Kenya, the herbs sector accounted for over 27 million Euros worth of herbs, demontrating the high value the industry has to the agricultural sector in Kenya.

Bloom Growers is a fresh produce exporting company located in Nanyuki, Kenya. It was started in 2019, to specialise in the growing culinary herbs’ export industry in Kenya. Their herbs of specialisation are of rosemary, thyme, lemon thyme, basil, tarragon, sage and mint. On a 6-acre land, they have put up multiple greenhouses, and grow other herbs on an open field. Currently, their markets are in Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates.

When they started, Bloom Growers used a prefabricated and AC powered makeshift cold room, that would maintain temperatures of between 8 to 10 degrees Celsius.

However, the system kept breaking down and would even hold unideal temperatures of up to 18 degrees Celsius. With an increasing production, the capacity of that cooler was also low for their operations, and at 600 KG, it did not meet their growing capacity needs.

“At the time of the setup of our farm, the area we operate was not connected to the grid. Our national grid provider gave us an exorbitant quote to get power to our farm. And we decided to opt for a solar system to power the cold room and the farm operations which cost almost half the price of grid.” Juliet, Marketing Lead, Bloom Growers.

In an attempt at getting connection to the grid, the cost of connection was extremely exorbitant, and they opted to utilise a diesel-powered generator for their on-farm activities, including, water pumping and their makeshift cold room. According to Juliet, the Co-Founder and Marketing Lead, the return-on-investment for powering the farm was low, as the cost of diesel was high, and the cold room capacity was still limiting their productivity levels. 

At this point, they approached InspiraFarms for an on-farm and energy-efficient cold room, that was connected to an external solar power system, with the intention to tap into the sun to power their cooling. They purchased a single unit cold room, of 25 square meters, in which they can store up to 4 tonnes of herbs at a go. The cold room includes InspiraConnect, an IoT powered remote monitoring system that allows them to monitor temperature and energy consumption.

As long as we are using the inspiraFarms cold room during the day, as a business, the energy cost to us is zero. We used to spend between KES 50,000 to 60,000 per week (428 – 480 USD) on diesel, to power both the main and stand-by generators, which would need to be running the whole day. With the older cold room, it would take us a longer time to cut down the field heat from our herbs, to achieve desired temperatures.”

High quality pre-cooling for herbs

It would take anywhere between 6 to 7 hours, to pre-cool their herbs before processing. With this particular InspiraFarms cold room, Juliet mentioned that now achieve the desired packing temperature in under an hour, and sometimes under 30 minutes.  

The drastic reduce in time is a huge benefit as this means they can process more herbs, at a faster rate. According to Juliet, the quality of their produce has increased drastically, in the sense that they now pre-cool their produce faster and to the desired temperature. 

“We have seen a huge reduction in both post-production losses. With the older cold room, there were instances where we would ship 600 kgs of whichever herb, and we would get rejection of 400 because of quality losses. By numbers, our losses would range between 40 to 60 percent, and our average produce that was not rejected was oftentimes 20%.

Today, with a better cooling solution, with the appropriate settings for herbs (temperatures, optimal humidity, airflow etc) for herbs, they are getting almost zero claims from customers, with the surety of making a sale on each shipment.

For the old unit, the maximum daily storage capacity was 600 KGs, and today, they can store up to 4 tonnes. This means that, Bloom Growers have noticed a growth in their business capacity, since they can process and ship more, at a better quality. Today, they have better retention of customers, and great customer feedback on the product quality. To date, their return customers have been increasing their volumes demands from their enterprise.

While looking at the ROI of investing in such high value products, Juliet had this to say:

“While it took us some time to be able to make this investment, we recognise this as a great value, based on the increase in our processing power. It has paid off by the additional volumes that we can process with the cold room and the better quality of our produce. Today, a sale is a guaranteed sale, and this is how we can recoup our investments within 3 to 5 years as worth it.”
  Women packaging rosemary herbs in an InspiraFarms cold room

Limitations to expansion of cold chain solutions for export enterprises

One of the largest bottlenecks that entrepreneurs such as Bloom Growers face is the limited access to financing technologies for cold storages and packhouses. Juliet mentions that rejections by financial institutions are mainly driven by the perception of agriculture as an unpredictable business, causing such providers to avoid such enterprises.

“As a medium sized farmer, it is important for us to work with innovators that design inclusive solutions for medium scale farms. As a medium sized farm, InspiraFarms took the time to understand the needs of our business, designed and set up a cold room specifically for our needs and production volumes.

To work around the financing gap, Juliet also encourages financial institutions to work with innovators such as InspiraFarms that could provide financing options, to further facilitate models to increase the adoption of such high-value cooling assets.

Due to the cooling power and speed of their cooler, Bloom Growers have noted extended shelf life of fresh herbs by as long as 4 days, satisfying their customers’ needs. Thanks to this, they have noticed an increasing number and volumes of orders and are now in the process of expanding their on-farm cooling solutions and capacity and are already in talks with InspiraFarms for a new structure. 

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