It is simple to start and maintain growing microgreens commercially. Microgreens are known for being relatively easy crops that grow quickly and have high yields. According to Research and Markets in April 2020, the commercial microgreen market is estimated to grow at an annual rate of 7.5 percent over the next five years.
There are only a few steps required to grow microgreens commercially. However, there are many things to consider before starting seeds, such as:
- Estimating the time needed and your availability
- Choosing a grow method
- Deciding on the overall scale
- Locating a grow space
- Gathering tools and items needed for growing
- Determining where profits can be made
In addition to the above considerations, this post will also cover how you can investigate becoming a licensed seller and expanding your commercial microgreen operation as you become a more experienced or invested microgreen grower.
How Do You Grow Microgreens Commercially?
There are three ways you can choose to commercially grow microgreens: using hydroponics, using vertical farming, or combining the two. All options work great for a commercial-scale operation.
Here are the pros and cons of the two main methods of microgreen growing:
|Vertical Farming||EasierRequires less spaceLower startup cost||Takes a bit longer to growMust clean crops well to avoid soil and sand in the final product|
|Hydroponics||Fast-growingCleaner set upNo dirt requiredCleaner end product that does not require an intense washing||Higher startup costMore complicated to set upRequires more upkeep and maintenance Algae blooms can disrupt growing if not careful|
What You Need for A Commercial Vertical Farming Microgreens Operation
In a vertical farming operation, you need trays to hold the soil and space where they can easily be watered and well lit. This is the most common type of microgreen propagation, as it is easier to maintain than hydroponic farming. There are not too many new products you will need to buy if you are an avid grower, to begin with. All the tools and items required in a vertical farming commercial operation are needed in regular farming or gardening.
The following are different options of the tools and items you need to grow microgreens using the vertical farming method:
|Items Needed||Option 1||Option 2|
|Trays with drain holes||King Creek Farms Plant Trays Heavy dutyFive packBPA free21.25 inches long by 11.25 inches wide by 2.5 inches deep||Yield Lab Black Plastic Trays 10 x 20-inch sizeFive packHoles in the base to allow for drainage|
|Potting soil||Espoma Organic Potting Mix Promotes root growthImproves moisture retentionIndoor and outdoor compatible||Black Gold All Organic Potting Soil OrganicMade in the United StatesLoamy soil mixAdded perlite and pumice for aeration|
|Fan||AC Infinity Muffin Fan 120 Volts4.7 by 4.7 by 1.5 inchesAluminum fanHigh-speed modelEasily mounted in any direction||Comfort Zone Floor Fan 20-inch sizeThree SpeedsHigh-velocityAdjustable tilt up to 180 degreesGrounded cord meets OSHA requirements|
|Water can or hose attachment||Bloem Easy Pour Watering Can Holds 2.6 gallonsDual handle design for easy pouringAdjustable water spout for a trickle or pour effectBPA freeSpout easily removed for cleaning||SprayTec Garden Hose Nozzle Sprayer Pistol gripNine flow patternsFinish protects from rustConstructed with an all-metal body and triggerCompatible with United States hoses (usually a ¾ inch thread)|
What You Need for A Commercial Hydroponic Microgreens Operation
When growing hydroponically, you need to build a different set up than the vertical farming method. You should start with a tub or container to hold the water. The lid of this container should have openings for your net cups. Some people opt for a starter kit that has everything they need to start. With the starter kit, you will add water, nutrients, and an air stone into a container to start growing!
Using the products below, you will cut the substrate to fit the net cups’ bottom and place your seeds into the container. Then, you sit back and watch your seeds grow! (Source: YouTube)
Here are some of the tools and items you need to grow microgreens using the hydroponic method:
|Items Needed||Option 1||Option 2|
|Substrate||Terrafibre Hemp Grow Mat Perfect for microgreens Biodegradable Absorbs water well||Biostrate Hydroponic Growing Mats Easy to clean Holds optimal water Designed for microgreens|
|Total Dissolved Solids Meter||VIVOSUN pH and TDS Meter Combo Full pH range 0 to 14TDS meter measures ppm and temperature||DUMSAMKER TDS Meter Measures 0 to 9990 ppmAuto shut offCompact design|
|pH Meter||Apera Instruments pH Tester Battery-powered Comes with buffers Auto calibrates|
|Net Pots||xGarden Net Pot Cups 50 pack Lightweight BPA free||3-inch NET Pot with LIDS 25 packLids included to reduce lightReusable|
|Air Stone||SunGrow Air Stone Cylinder Provides optimal aeration Enhances the plant’s nutrient absorbency||PIVBY Air Stone Disc Bubble Diffuser Small micro bubbles Suction cups for easy placement|
What You Need for Any Commercial Microgreen-Growing Operation
Some things you need for any type of operation you choose are a commercial scale, a fluorescent grow light, and an outlet timer. These are also useful tools if you are experimenting with different levels of nutrients or different types of seeds, as changing conditions can impact the weight at harvest.
Here are two options for scales, grow lights, and timers, all of which are highly rated:
|Item||Option 1||Option 2|
|Commercial Scale||Etekcity Food Scale with Bowl 11-pound capacity LCD Includes timer and temperature sensorIncludes bowl to weigh larger quantities easilyRequires batteries||Aoocan Food Scale USB rechargeable Measures up to 33 pounds Large LCD Simple tare function Battery-powered option Auto shut off|
|Fluorescent light fixture||Monios-L T5 LED Grow Light 2 feet long Wave lengths of 380 to 800 nanometers 30 Watt power Install hanging from or on the ceiling Aluminum reflector 59-inch power cord||Active Grow LED Grow Light Fixture 2 feet long Wave lengths of 400 to 700 nanometers 20 Watts120-volt power cord Energy saving Mount by the suspension to install Multiple spectrums available based on growing needs|
|Timer||BN-LINK Mechanical Outlet Timer Compatible with three-prong outlets2 packIndoor onlyEasy to use||Digital Infinite Repeat Cycle Timer Plug Indoor only 2 pack Allows for plug-in of cords with three prongs Digital display 1-year warranty|
Steps for Beginning a Commercial Microgreen-Growing Operation
No matter the method, most farmers start small when they begin growing microgreens commercially to avoid losing time and money. Since microgreens are so easy to grow, many areas have seen an increase in microgreen businesses. This is also a great supplement for row crop farmers whose winters are sparse because microgreens can be grown year-round.
These six steps will have you growing microgreens on a commercial scale in no time:
- Choose your customer. Think about who you want your target market to be and consider the best way to market your microgreens to them. Also, consider which avenue will earn you the most consistent income.
- Choose your farming method. You will have to decide which method is best based on your experience. Both hydroponics and vertical farming are a simple way to grow microgreens. Keep in mind vertical farming is more common and requires less money to start.
- Choose your grow space. You will need a large enough space to house your trays and grow lights and have easy access to water. This space can be a greenhouse, garage, basement, or shed. Remember, you will want a temperature-controlled space, or you will need to invest in a heater and fan. Additionally, a space that requires no additional upkeep or expense will keep your startup costs more reasonable.
- Choose your microgreens. This is probably the most important aspect of the operation. Consider what your customer is seeking from a microgreen business. Ask your customers what type of microgreen would be most beneficial to them. This helps to ensure sales because you are talking directly with your future customers.
- Plant your seeds and wait. The actual growing process is a little more complicated. You will need to monitor your grow space for proper humidity, temperature, soil saturation, and light. Your seeds may require watering daily, and grow lights should be carefully monitored to create the optimal growing conditions for your microgreens.
- Harvest and package. Microgreens are harvested when they are 2 to 3 inches tall. This is before they grow too big and become baby greens but are no longer considered sprouts. This is time-consuming as you are either hand harvesting or using an electric trimmer. After harvest, wash and dry your microgreens to ensure they are not contaminated with soil or bacteria. They should be packaged in plastic bags or containers and stored in a cool, dark place. At this point, your microgreens are at their most delicate state. Handle with care to ensure longer shelf life.
(Source: California State University)
These products are highly rated and will be seamlessly incorporated into your commercial operation. Shelving units were not included in the essential items above because they are not essential, especially if you are just starting your microgreen business. You do not want to expand the business too quickly. However, if your tight on space, investing in a shelving unit would help maximize space and improve profits in the long term.
Is Growing Microgreens Commercially Right for You?
There are many benefits to commercially growing microgreens. But is it the right commitment for you? Generally speaking, the microgreen market is thriving. Microgreens are in high demand and will continue to be in high demand. It is important to do a simple analysis to know if your current area’s market is saturated. If the market in your area is saturated, you may want to reconsider growing microgreens commercially.
Here are some of the pros and cons of growing microgreens commercially:
|Low investment to start Efficient and fast seed to harvestGrow at any time of yearHigh-demand nutritional productAble to set rates at a premiumRequires little space for growingOnly commit to as much time as you want (Remember time equals profits)||Must purchase or rent equipmentMust build a large or repeating client baseOptimizing growing can be difficult and takes timeAs you scale up, you will need to hire employees to help and keep up with demand|
Ultimately, the advantages of commercially growing microgreens outweigh the disadvantages. If your area has multiple high-end restaurants or other commercial retailers, beginning a journey as a commercial microgreen grower is a fantastic option. Ultimately, many areas also have lots of room for growth. As word gets out that you sell microgreens, the demand will increase, and you can charge more and grow more!
What Kind of Profit Can You Expect to Make from Growing Microgreens Commercially?
Determining profits requires a bit of math. Hopefully, you have kept track of your income and expenses as you have developed your commercial microgreen business. Find those numbers and come back with your calculator. If you are looking to estimate your costs, you can keep reading, too, as some example numbers have been provided.
Use the following product prices to estimate your startup cost and initial investment:
|Seeds||$2 to $50 per pound|
|Soil||$25 to $50|
|Trays||$25 to $80|
|Lights||$20 to $50 per light|
|Shelves||$50 to $100 per shelf|
|Fan or Heater||$50 to $100|
|Total: $172 to $430|
Not included in the above estimate is the increased water bill you will incur due to watering your plants frequently. This will differ by region as prices and use will vary. Additionally, the amount of money you may spend renting or buying a new grow space is not included in this estimate. According to Profitable Plants Digest, it is easy to determine how much money you can make.
Use the following steps to determine the profits you can expect from growing microgreens commercially:
- Multiply the number of trays in your operation by 5 ounces, which is the average yield per 10 by 20-inch tray. This will give you the estimated weight of your crop in ounces. Most operations start with a tabletop covered with between 8 and 16 trays.
- Divide the weight you calculated in step one by 16. This is a simple conversion to turn the weight you calculate in ounces into pounds, as most microgreens are sold per pound.
- Multiply the weight you calculated in step two by $25 to estimate the total amount of money you will earn from your commercial growing operation. Most microgreens are sold for about $25 per pound. This will vary by region based on demand.
Now you can compare your estimated startup cost and investment with the estimated profit you will earn. It is important to consider how much time, space, and labor you want to put into your commercial microgreen business. All these factors have an invisible cost that many growers often forget to consider.
It is a good business practice to keep track of your business expenses; using a service that tracks incoming money and outgoing transactions is essential to know if you are profiting and how long it may take for you to see a profit based on the initial investment you made.
What Microgreens Should You Choose When You Start Growing Commercially?
The best thing to focus on when you first start in your commercial microgreen business is simplicity. You do not want to take on more than you can actually do. And you want to make sure you can be successful at each step before investing too much time and money.
It is projected that broccoli microgreens will be in high demand in the coming years. Broccoli, lettuce, arugula, and basil are considered the trendiest microgreens through 2025.
The following are different types of microgreens you should consider growing based on your experience and interests:
- The Easiest to Grow: Sunflower
- The Most Profitable Option: Pea or Sunflower
- The Tastiest Option: Radish
- The Easiest to Sell: Arugula and other lettuces
- The Most Produced Microgreen: Broccoli
There are many different types of microgreens available. It is worth asking your customer, especially if your main clientele base will be restaurant chefs, what types of microgreens they prefer. Arugula and radish are known for their spicy flavor. Pea microgreens have a slight sweetness to them, and sunflower microgreens have a nutty flavor. Finally, broccoli microgreens are very reminiscent of fully grown broccoli but have a milder flavor.
Pea and Sunflower Microgreens: What Makes Them More Profitable?
Pea and sunflower microgreens are some of the more commonly requested microgreens. This is great for commercial microgreen growers because pea and sunflower microgreens are more profitable than other microgreens. These are often sold to restaurants; however, they also do great at the market or a local grocer.
- Pea microgreens are more profitable than other microgreens varieties because they will regrow one or two more times after the first harvest.
- Sunflower microgreens are more profitable because they are heavier than other types of microgreens.
Even still, these microgreens require the same amount, if not more, resources to yield your higher profits. It may be worth considering how many more resources are required if you are trying to be conscious about your budget.
Where Can You Sell Your Microgreens?
Because you will most likely be the sole operator of your business when you first start, you can choose to sell your microgreens almost anywhere. This allows you to think creatively about marketing strategies and opportunities for growth.
The following are a few groups, organizations, or locations you can consider selling your microgreens to:
- Local restaurants, breweries, and juice bars
- Farmer’s markets
- Grocery stores
- Other consumers in your area
- Online ordering
Many commercial microgreen growers consider starting a community-supported agriculture (CSA) subscription service. This is a great way to get the community involved, and it allows you to charge upfront, so you can use each subscriber’s investment in advance of the actual growing season to help fund some of the startup costs.
Online ordering is a great way to spread the word about your business. Simply having a website makes your product more accessible to people you might not see at a farmer’s market. Every opportunity is a chance to make a sale, so having a website increases those odds!
Do You Need A License to Sell Microgreens?
You will most likely not need a license or permit to sell microgreens. However, the need for a license or permit varies from state to state and even county to county. It is important to check in with your local zoning office and your state’s department of agriculture.
There are a few agencies that regulate the selling of microgreens and other produce, so you may need a permit for one method of selling but not another:
- The Office of the Agriculture Commissioner – Certifies scales, if sold by a unit of weight
- State Department of Agriculture – May require permits for selling at farmer’s markets
- Your city’s or town’s business office – May require a license or permit to sell wholesale
Make sure you review the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act. This law created standards for the entire process from growing to packaging produce. It was established to keep farms accountable and hold them all to the same safety standards, which reduces hazards and potential for contamination.
How Do You Expand Your Commercial Microgreen Business?
You will hear from multiple sources that a commercial microgreen business is great because it is scalable. This is one of the reasons microgreens as a business are so enticing. Feedback from your customers is the key to successfully scaling up the commercial microgreen operation. Once you know what your customers like, you can be more selective about which seeds you grow.
But what does expanding your commercial microgreen business really mean?:
- Planting more seeds – The easiest way to expand is simply to grow more plants.
- Growing new or different greens – Maybe you have been selling the same two or three varieties since you began. It could be time to expand the types of microgreens you produce. This can draw in new customers and even excite returning customers.
- Investing in a larger grow space – Sometimes growing more plants requires more space, so renting a new space or expanding your existing space is an option.
- Increasing your marketing – Spreading the word about your business is a great way to expand your business; it draws in new customers and encourages previous customers to spread the word.
- Expanding beyond your existing buyers – Maybe now is the time to approach a local grocer or a new restaurant set to open in the next few months. Finding new buyers will easily allow you to expand because the increased revenue can help you reinvest in your business.
No matter which way you choose to expand your growing microgreens commercially, always do a quick cost-benefit analysis. Based on your previous income, profits, and demand, ask yourself if it is the right time for expansion. Many small businesses tend to scale too fast and end up losing money in the long run. However, as easy as it is to scale up commercially growing microgreens, it is just as easy to scale it back.
Read Books on Expanding Your Business
There are many books on the market about how to turn a profit with your microgreen business. Additionally, it may be helpful to read about starting a business, as many microgreen books focus on the farming side of things.
The following books are highly rated options that give you tips on expanding your commercial microgreen business for all types of budgets:
- Microgreens: How to Grow Microgreens for Fun or Profit
- Microgreens: The Insiders Secrets To Growing Gourmet Greens & Building A Wildly Successful Microgreen Business
- The Urban Farmer: Growing Food for Profit on Leased and Borrowed Land
- MICROGREENS: An Essential Guide to Grow Nutrient-Dense Organic Microgreens for Your Health or Profit
As you can see, there are many options available to explore and learn more about microgreens as both a hobby and a business. Between videos, classes, and books, you will be able to find out exactly what will make your commercial microgreen business profitable and fun.
In Summary: Growing Microgreens Commercially Is Easy
Growing microgreens commercially is fast and simple. Microgreens do not require a large investment to start growing, and they can be very profitable almost as soon as you start growing, especially if you have a solid business plan in place.
In addition to the ease with which you get set up and the low starting investment, it is a relatively quick process to grow microgreens commercially. It only takes about a week to see seeds grow into microgreens, and then you can harvest. After harvesting, getting your microgreens to your buyers is vital.
Hopefully, this post offered you some guidance on starting to grow microgreens commercially. There are a lot of resources on starting a business and, more specifically, a microgreen business!