What is in this article?:
- Small product, big market: Marvin Wilhite finds niche with tasty microgreens
- Other hurricane-related problems
- Going for flavor
• Chefs are always looking at trends and ideas for new products to grow their business. If you create something with a chef, you’re a partner with him. That’s the secret to longevity.
• Marvin Wilhite's product line includes many microgreens packaged individually, ranging from red amaranth to micro broccoli, onion, thyme, snow peas and chervil, all the way through red and green oak leaf and nasturtium flowers.
• Wilhite started in 2000 with one greenhouse. Now he has 21, all self-built and designed.
Marvin Wilhite’s 40-plus types of microgreens end up in 500-or-so restaurants across the nation.
Other hurricane-related problems
But, other problems associated with the worst storm did affect the business.
“We went nine days without power and lost everything,” Wilhite says. “Sales went from $120,000 a month to nothing. But we were still fortunate. Within 30 days we were back running at 100 percent of revenue.”
Even with the risk of hurricanes, he still thinks his location is ideal.
“I have access to Atlanta, Orlando, Miami. With the trend to local, regional, sustainable products, that’s important, and I’m going to the upscale restaurants.
“It’s tougher to grow microgreens here than in California, because they don’t deal with the humidity we have. Moisture just ruins the shelf life of produce.”
Wilhite grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., son of a landscaper, and worked in other jobs for years, including a career in financing. While doing that, he met a fellow who had a deal to grow hydroponic herbs for Disney World restaurants. That entrepreneur was poorly financed, however, so Wilhite bought land, leased it to him, and went to work as the company’s sales director.
A venture capitalist bought the company, but soon ran into problems. Wilhite got it from him and started selling herbs to local restaurants, before discovering chefs’ growing interest in microgreens.
“Chefs are always looking at trends and ideas for new products to grow their business. If you create something with a chef, you’re a partner with him. That’s the secret to longevity,” he says.
“I built this business one chef at a time, one distributor rep at a time. Once I got started with microgreens, I just fell in love with the business.”
Wilhite’s biggest selling product these days is a ‘rainbow’ mixture of artfully arranged arugula, beef bulls blood, red mustard, red cabbage, purple kohlrabi and mizuna mustard.
He packages a number of microgreen mixes. An Asian mix, for example, contains cilantro, daikon radish tokashini, mizuna mustard, red cabbage, red mustard, shiso and tatsoi.
He sells a ‘fiery mix,’ with calienete wasabi, red mustard, green horseradish, and diakon radish. He packages several other mixes for different taste experiences.
His product line includes many microgreens packaged individually, ranging from red amaranth to micro broccoli, onion, thyme, snow peas and chervil, all the way through red and green oak leaf and nasturtium flowers.
“All I have to do is have a distributor salesperson show my product — the product sells itself,” Wilhite says.
In addition, trays of living microgreens are also popular items. Stored above 42 degrees, living trays have a shelf life of at least three weeks.