Vegpro International | Quebec lettuce… even in winter

A new variety of Quebec lettuce sold year-round in grocery stores, at a price capable of thumbing its nose at brands grown on American soil. This is the objective that the market gardening giant Vegpro International wishes to achieve with the construction of a fully automated greenhouse using technology unique in Quebec.


Posted at 1:32 a.m.

Updated at 6:00 a.m.

This $135 million project will allow the Sherrington, Montérégie, company to produce 3.5 million kilos of lettuce annually in a 5.2 hectare greenhouse, the equivalent of four soccer fields. This is a first greenhouse for the company which until now was entirely dedicated to field cultivation.

By the own admission of the president and CEO of Vegpro International, Anthony Fantin, it is not the largest greenhouse in Quebec. But it will certainly be the only one – at least for the moment – ​​to use this type of technology, developed in Finland, to produce lettuce.

Having as few “humans” as possible inside to limit the risk of spreading disease is the intention behind automation.

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PHOTO FRANÇOIS ROY, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

The CEO of Vegpro International, Anthony Fantin

Sowing, greenhouse planting, fertilizer, irrigation, harvesting: all of this is automated, all of this does not require human intervention.

Anthony Fantin, CEO of Vegpro International

“These are not robots like you imagine them to be on a GM assembly line. These are the vessels where the lettuces are located which move through a mechanical system which ensures that human intervention is not needed. In the lettuce niche, there is no greenhouse that is automated like ours,” he emphasizes.

Crispy lettuces

The first lettuces grown in the greenhouse will be on sale at the end of March 2025. Although Vegpro International is known for its Attitude brand lettuce blends, those produced in the greenhouse will be packaged under a different name, which the company declined to reveal at this time.

These will be completely different salads from those grown in the field. It’s not an extension of what we do in the field. These are much crisper salads, which look a little more like iceberg.

Anthony Fantin, President and CEO of Vegpro International

Determined to expand his range, the big boss of Vegpro maintains that there is a great demand for this type of product. According to him, this initiative fits perfectly into the food autonomy approach initiated by the Legault government. “The idea is to offer more Quebec products to Quebecers, 12 months a year, at an attractive price. » The company also intends to sell its crisp lettuces in Ontario, the Maritimes and the northeast region of the United States.

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PHOTO PROVIDED BY VEGPRO INTERNATIONAL

The greenhouse will be ready in March 2025.

And Vegpro doesn’t intend to stop there. A portion of the greenhouse will be dedicated to research and development, “because the varieties we use outside are not necessarily suitable for indoor production.” The company therefore wants to develop new ones that will perform well in a greenhouse.

On the side of the Quebec Greenhouse Producers, President André Mousseau applauds the initiative of the Sherrington company. According to him, the project sends the message that greenhouse farming is a viable option. “The people at Vegpro are horticultural professionals,” he maintains. That means we’re taking the right path. » Gen V, Toundra, Savoura, Productions horticultures Demers and Lufa are all Quebec companies that grow “indoors”.

American owned

This greenhouse project, which already plans a second phase where other varieties of vegetables will grow, was easier to realize with the arrival of new owners at the head of the company, according to Mr. Fantin.

Backtracking. In June 2022, Vegpro passed into the hands of the investment firm Vision Ridge Partners, headquartered in Colorado, following the retirement of founding president, Gerry Van Winden. Mr. Fantin, the current CEO, was also among the co-founders.

Two years after the transaction, he assures that the market gardening company still has a “very Quebec” identity. “There are no fund managers in Quebec at the moment. They have offices in New York, London and Colorado.

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PHOTO ALAIN ROBERGE, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

Vegpro is known for its Attitude brand lettuce blends.

“These are people with whom we communicate every week. These are people to whom we make financial reports, to whom we share initiatives to grow the company,” he says.

And their entry on the scene contributed to the realization of the project. “With an investment fund more accustomed to calculated risks, it sure made things easier, especially when the budget was at 135 million,” recognizes Mr. Fantin.

Although the idea of ​​launching into “indoor cultivation” had been part of the company’s plans for seven or eight years, the project would undoubtedly have been “more modest” if Vision Ridge Partners had not set its sights on Vegpro.

“We feel that this is a niche for the future. The company has a desire to grow. This first greenhouse will not be our last. »

Vegpro International in brief

  • Founded: 1998
  • Owner: Vision Ridge Partners
  • Brands: Attitude
  • Head office: Sherrington, in Montérégie
  • Number of employees in North America: more than 1,000, including 500 in Sherrington
  • Number of points of sale in the country: 2500

Learn more

  • 676
    Number of businesses in Quebec that owned at least one greenhouse growing fruit and vegetables in 2023

    Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Quebec

    50
    Number of companies that operate a greenhouse of more than one hectare

    Source: Quebec greenhouse producers

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