Flavorite: Australia’s largest glasshouse operator

With over 70ha of produce under glass, Flavorite is a pioneer in glasshouse farming. A fully integrated business with dedicated nursery facilities that grows, packs and markets fresh produce right across Australia. Spanning four regional Victoria farms, Flavorite’s glasshouse growing approach sets the benchmark for sustainable growing systems. Hear from Flavorite CEO, Mike Nichol about three decades of innovation and growth in glasshouse farming and year-round premium produce.

Frank Barillaro: So tell me a bit about Flavorite, how it started, and more importantly, how you guys were the first really in Australia to pioneer tomatoes under glasshouse as we know it today.

Mike Nichol: We're a family business. We started 30 years ago and we decided to grow some tomatoes that had a bit of flavor. So we called the business Flavorite.

We decided that growing in a glasshouse would give us better quality, more consistency and better flavor outcomes for our customers.

Frank Barillaro: Explain to me a little bit about the difference in reliability of glasshouse production and why it's appealing not only to the consumer, but also to the supermarkets as well.

Mike Nichol: We've got a growing population. People are looking to eat more healthily, and our customers want our production to be more sustainable.

So our footprint allows us to do what we do in a more sustainable way than field production. You know, we are 10 times more productive per liter of water that we provide to our crops than what happens in the field.

So, it's a great sustainability story, but it also, for our customers, we can see the next eight weeks of production on that plant in a controlled atmosphere environment. And so they're guaranteed that that product will be on their shelf, whereas if you're growing in the field, you're at the mercy of the, of the weather.

You can bring a tomato crop almost to the picking stage and then you get a hailstorm or, or excessive rain and all of that hard work that they put in is lost.

Frank Barillaro: We're sitting here in front of a couple of tomato plants. This is about eight weeks old. So how big will this thing grow and roughly how many kilos of tomatoes will it produce over its lifespan?

Mike Nichol: The plant itself will grow up to 15 meters long, so it grows about 30 centimeters a week, depending on the time of the year, but probably about 40 kilos of tomatoes will come off that plant in its lifetime.

Frank Barillaro: Amazing Favorite’s grown now to become the largest operator of glasshouse in the country. And we're the only producer that operates across multiple sites.

Do you want to explain a little bit around how we morphed from Warrigal as our primary production facility, and the plans underway at Tatura
which will be effectively a secondary hub.

Mike Nichol: We wanted to diversify our product range to take some risk out of just being in one commodity type.

Now we're across tomatoes, capsicums, cucumbers, eggplant, and interestingly blueberries. We needed to look at geographically diversifying as well.

There's definitely a light advantage in being in the northern parts of Victoria. All of our sites are in Victoria. Our hubs will be Warragul and Tatura.

Tatura gives us our strong winter production, so we can plant around Christmas and then grow through the winter.

And then at Warragul, we plant on the shortest day, middle of winter and grow through the summer. What we're trying to do there is we're trying to be able to provide product to our customers that we can provide all year round so they get regular supply of high quality product and we can make sure that we don't go out of any commodity at any time during the year.

We are not only developing the Tatura site, we are building a massive packing shed that's going to be able to pack for all of the production at Tatura and then also some of our other northern sites.

And so it's gives us a really strong strategic advantage.

Frank Barillaro: Glasshouse production today in relation to the tomato market accounts for about 50% of Australia's production. Other categories like cucumbers and capsicums and other, you know, fruits and vegetables are a long way away from that. Where do you see the market moving over the next five, 10 years?

Mike Nichol: There's many, many products that can be grown in this glasshouse environment. There will be a transfer of more fuel production into glasshouse production. In this environment, we don't have to provide as much sprays, so the crops are a lot cleaner and so the supermarkets are looking for more sustainably grown, more food safe product and it'll only take some forethought and some commitment into those categories and more food safe supply chain.

Frank Barillaro: Tell me a bit about the growth that's been experienced through the business over the last 30 years, but