Introducing Class 1: Grown
Words by Kristina Foster
Photos by Marie Wanders
‘Can you pass the cress please?’ Imagine if cress and fresh herbs were as essential to your kitchen as salt and pepper. Grown CEO Toon Roozen is the product designer and entrepreneur trying to make growing edible greens as easy and accessible as possible. He tells us about his journey in developing his CressToday products and the importance of bringing fresh food into people’s homes.
Have you always been interested in working in the green sector?
My whole youth was spent outside amongst plants and trees and both my parents are landscape architects so you could say that green runs in the family! I then went to study product design at the University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam and in my third year was presented with the challenge to design a product for the ‘future kitchen’. We had this guest lecturer who came to speak about new technological advances in the urban farming industry, specifically new LED technology. I was really interested in applying this technology to a consumer product which gave me the basis of my idea; to build some kind of grow unit for people at home. Needless to say, my parents were very glad that I got back into green!
How did this project develop?
It started off as a very high-tech design for a growing unit, but it became more simple and was more suited to children’s use. I have to say that my teachers weren’t super excited about my ideas, they gave me a good enough score but their lack of enthusiasm motivated me to develop my product even more because I really did believe in it. I decided to develop the grow unit as my graduation project. I visited Koppert Cress, a big company in the Dutch horticultural industry that is very supportive of green innovation. They liked my graduation project and wanted to help me develop the first prototype, offering me a part-time job so I could keep on working on it after my studies. Then, a year ago I started my own business, Grown, with my first product CressToday.
Tell us about the CressToday products.
We have two different products at the moment. The first one is the CressToday Basic model which has an automatic water supply; with five grow cups in the tray, you can grow five different mini herbs at the same time. We deliver cress pads with these products which contain environmentally friendly growing substrates. They’re very clean and easy to use and you don’t get your hands dirty with soil. You also receive a bag of seeds, provided by Koppert Cress, which, after you spread them over the pads, start growing straight away. So we’re really trying to focus on making it as easy as possible and fun to use. The second model is more high-end, a luxury kitchen product which has special LED growing light so you can grow herbs all year round. With this technology, you always have reliable results and quality herbs.
How do you think that innovative product design can contribute to the green industry?
Product design can make long-standing businesses such as Koppert Cress cool again, with new designs and new innovations. Design is an everyday thing but it’s also a way of building people’s enthusiasm for new products and lifestyles. A lot of people love the way that our products look and want it as a gadget for their kitchen and the green is just an added bonus for them. In this way, design plays a part in getting green into the house again, even if it’s indirectly.
Why is it important to bring green into people’s homes and give them access to fresh herbs?
Obviously growing your own herbs is a fun thing to do. The Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn released these grow-your-own-vegetable-garden-kits which were really popular for a while. But they’re a lot of effort; they cost time, they’re messy and you don’t always get reliable results. We try and create that satisfying feeling of growing something of good quality every time. Our products also help people adopt a more healthy lifestyle. When you always have fresh herbs at your disposal, you’ll be motivated to use them with other healthy ingredients. I mean – you’re not going to put cress on your fries! You’ll be encouraged to make, say, a healthy salad. It really affects people’s eating habits in a positive way.
Tell us what motivated you to apply to the Incubation Programme?
A friend noticed the Open Innovation Call for the Incubation Programme and told me about it. I was enthusiastic from the very beginning. My company is ready to grow, I’m ready to promote it, meet people from the green sector and find different ways to scale up the business. I was very happy to be selected because I knew there were over 100 applicants.
What are you most looking forward to most for the next five months?
I’m looking forward to the mentorship and lectures most of all. I really hope to develop a strong vision on what I should focus on next. Whether it’s product development or working the market, I hope Let it Grow can send me in the right direction.
What’s your vision for Grown?
I always use the example of salt and pepper. You have these products on your table all the time. I want CressToday to be like that. I want it to become an essential part of your daily meal. I want them to skip flavour enhancers and use cress instead!