Cultilene is 40 years old. During this period, we have developed into more than just a substrate supplier: in 2019, Cultilene primarily wants to contribute to the success of the grower. To achieve this, we focus on three pillars: water management, light transmission and data-driven services. The solid foundation that has been laid in recent decades makes this possible. With Managing Director Bonny Heeren – at the helm of Cultilene since 2009 – we look back and look ahead.
The history of Cultilene goes back to 1979. How did it all start?
“The establishment of Cultilene had everything to do with the fact that the use of methyl bromide, a soil disinfectant, came under increasing pressure at the end of the 1970s. More and more growers ‘left the ground’ and made the switch to substrate cultivation. The French multinational Saint-Gobain, which had not yet been active in horticulture, responded with the creation of Cultilene. This company was to focus on the production and supply of rock wool substrates. That’s why the name Cultilene was chosen. Culti’ refers to ‘cultivating’ and ‘lene’ to ‘laine de roche’, the French word for rock wool. The Netherlands, the horticultural country par excellence, became the operating base of the new company.
What other developments and shifts have manifested themselves over the years?
‘We made the changes of direction, for example, necessary for optimising the industrial footprint. We concentrated our production on our most important markets – the Netherlands, France, Poland, and Canada. By doing this, and also by investing in a number of production locations, we have been able to improve the service we provide to our customers and optimise our risk profile. However, even though over the years Cultilene has increased the international scope of its operations – its products are now sold in over fifty countries – the Netherlands remains our home base in terms of expertise and support.’
A strategic change of course occurred in 2010, enabling Cultilene to further strengthen its market position. Can you tell me more about that?
“Until 2010, Cultilene was mainly a rock wool supplier, which delivered the desired quantities of substrate once a year. However, we wanted to go a step further and play a greater role in the daily lives of our customers. We put this into practice by setting up an application team consisting of technical specialists who can provide our customers worldwide with advice about using our products. In certain customer segments, our distribution channel was also adapted in order to respond better to the increased scale in the most important markets. We also introduced our new Cultilene logo and new corporate identity.
We continued to expand our product range so that we could respond even better to our customers’ needs.
Yet, the new strategy brought more changes?
It became clear that several of Saint-Gobain’s products might offer potential for greenhouse horticulture. That’s why diffused glass with an anti-reflection coating from Saint-Gobain’s solar activities was adapted for use in high-tech greenhouse horticulture. Cultilene has become a fully-fledged supplier of high-quality Albarino horticultural glass.
Can we say that Cultilene is much more than just a supplier of substrate in 2019?
“Absolutely. Today’s business strategy is based on three pillars: substrate, high-quality Albarino horticultural glass and data driven services. Cultilene considers it particularly important to contribute to sustainable food production. In order to feed the entire world’s population of around nine billion people by 2050, we need to produce more food in the next 30 years than we’ve done in the last 10,000 years! That’s a major challenge requiring new investments in the greenhouse horticulture sector. The production capacity must be increased and food production must be made more sustainable.
‘Improvements in Water Use Efficiency are fundamental to us. In other words: the quantity of water a grower uses to produce a kilo of vegetables. Our substrates enable growers to increase the number of kilos of produce, to improve product quality, and to help save water. In addition, our high translucent glass – with or without diffusing capabilities – contributes more than standard glass to a marked increase in production.’
Light transmission is another spearhead for the future?
‘Yes, we are also focusing on the further development of our cleaning agents and glass products, with the emphasis on the efficient use of light. Our ambition is also to become a total supplier in the horticultural glass sector.’
Cultilene invests fully in data driven services?
“Correct. This is the third pillar of our contemporary strategy. Offering the harvest forecasting service of the Canadian company Motorleaf, with which Cultilene entered into a partnership last year, fits in perfectly with this picture.
Recently we have also developed a sensor that provides data about the EC, water content, and temperature in the root zone of the substrate. This sensor is unique in being able to register high EC values. This is crucial, for example, for tomato growers who primarily focus on the market segment for ‘taste tomatoes’. This is an innovation that therefore anticipates the needs of the grower.’
Can Cultilene do all this alone?
“Certainly not. Strategic partnerships with other companies and research institutions are crucial. This is why, for example, we work closely with parties like the WUR, Delphy, the HAS University of Applied Sciences and with high-tech start-ups like Motorleaf and Water Future. Cultilene is also one of the partners in Plant Empowerment: a cultivation concept in which crop growth is optimised by keeping the plant in balance as much as possible. Collaboration helps us to innovate and increase our knowledge role but above all, we want to listen to our customers and be a reliable partner.”
Reliability is of paramount importance to Cultilene?
“Absolutely, that’s what we stand for in the first place. This is evident from the fact that our rock wool has come from the same factory for more than twenty years. Partly because of this, we have maximum grip on the product quality. More than two billion Cultilene cubes have already been produced at our factory in Častolovice. To give you some idea: with such a quantity of substrate you can supply the entire world population with tomatoes for a whole year.
In addition, Cultilene has a permanent team of employees who guarantee efficient and accurate supply. Furthermore, we are consistent when it comes to our product range and we are committed to long-term relationships with our customers, suppliers and partnerships. In short: Cultilene operates from a solid base. This forms the foundation for further development and for achieving even more value for the customer. That’s our focus for the future!”