Vertical Farming – A “Growing” Retail Trend
By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
Produce from vertical farms is showing up in grocery stores across the country with expansion predicted for the future. While some retailers have actual “mini-farms” within their stores or distribution centers, others are sourcing products by forming partnerships with vertical farming companies. These programs and alliances help to satisfy the American consumer’s interest in fresh, nourishing food and most certainly answer the question, “where did my food come from?” These partnerships also provide a sustainable solution for retailers who are anxious to advance their environmentally-friendly practices. Let’s look at some examples of how retailers are integrating vertical farms into their operations.
- The company Infarm has more than 500 hydroponic farm installations in stores and distribution centers worldwide and is now partnering with Kroger in the United States. Their growing process involves LEDs and an irrigation system with recycled water. Infarm also uses a cloud-based technology system to remotely control the temperature and lighting for each of its farms. The ultimate goal for Infarm is to make local food production mainstream.
- At 75 Giant Eagle stores, you can now find 4 SKUs of locally grown fresh leafy greens and ready-to-eat salads from Fifth Season, a Pittsburgh-based vertical- and robotic-farming company. Fifth Season uses an automated platform which is run entirely by an integrated software and ordering system and their greens stay fresh at least three times longer than field-grown products.
- Last fall, the services company of Ahold Delhaize USA named Evergreen Farms, a vertical-farming technology start up company, as the winner of its supply-chain innovation pitch competition. Their farming technology offers a solution to produce food anywhere, regardless of climate, and deliver high-quality product to stores year-round.
- AeroFarms recently broke ground its second commercial indoor vertical farm, in Virginia and the farm is strategically located near more than 1,000 food retailers in the region. Their 136,000-square-foot Model 5 farm will be the largest and most technologically advanced aeroponic indoor vertical farm in the world. They plan on expanding their leafy greens business with Whole Foods Market, ShopRite, Baldor, Amazon Fresh and FreshDirect.
- Safeway and Albertson’s will be making leafy greens available to many smaller communities through their partnership with vertical farming company Plenty. Plenty grows multiple crops in a building the size of a retail store and boasts high yields while using only a fraction of the water needed in traditional farming. To answer consumer questions, Plenty is also debuting their Text-a-Farmer feature, on display next to its greens in stores.
Retailers are seeing many benefits with vertical-farming partnerships which appear to be a win-win for consumers as well. By removing the need for long-haul transportation products will have an increased shelf life, and there is the potential for less product contamination. In addition, with less water and land usage, vertical-farming is environmentally friendly.