Sobeys to boost supply of vertically farmed produce

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Under an expanded partnership with Sobeys, vertical farming company Infarm plans to build four new production sites to be able to supply fresh produce to more than 1,000 of the Canadian grocer’s stores.

Infarm said Monday that it aims to construct Infarm Growing Centers in Calgary, Alberta; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Hamilton, Ontario. Near Toronto, the Hamilton facility will be Infarm’s largest production site in North America, with a growing capacity of 37,000 square feet, the company said.

Related: Retailers reduce produce miles through vertical farming and local sourcing

Sobeys and Infarm formed their partnership last year, with a goal of providing locally grown, indoor-farmed produce to the Stellarton, Nova Scotia-based retailer’s customers nationwide. The deal was the first of national scope between a Canadian retailer and a vertical farming company, according to Infarm.

“We are passionate about bringing Canadian families the best, freshest, most delicious produce every single day. The expansion of our exclusive partnership with Infarm demonstrates our commitment to delivering that in a technologically advanced and sustainable way,” Niluka Kottegoda, vice president of customer experience at Sobeys, said in a statement.

Related: Kroger to offer in-store living produce farms

“We received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our customers and our store teams about the current Infarm product grown in our stores,” she added. “We are thrilled to expand into the Infarm Growing Centers, as they allow us to exponentially offer these great local products to a multitude of communities across Canada all year round.”

Berlin-based Infarm combines vertical farms with Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning technology to create a resilient alternative food system. Situated across urban markets, Infarm’s smart modular farms are designed to grow fresh produce for city inhabitants.

The growing centers house farming units that can each save up to 10 million liters of water annually versus soil-based agriculture for similar crops, while producing the equivalent of up to 100,000 square feet of land, Infarm reported. The company noted that 90% of electricity used throughout the Infarm network will be from green-certified sources by September 2021, part of its plan to use 100% renewable or green-certified energy.

Sobeys’ partnership with Infarm is the first national-level deal between a Canadian retailer and a vertical farming company.

With their expanded partnership, Infarm and Sobeys will extend the availability and distribution of vertically farmed produce to another four of Canada’s 10 provinces by 2023. That will boost production volume in Canada by more than sevenfold, in tandem with current Infarm Growing Centers in Vancouver and Victoria/Vancouver Island in British Columbia. According to Infarm, the deal stems from rising retailer demand for its produce, including from the Sobeys, Safeway and Thrifty Food supermarket banners of Empire Co. Ltd., the parent company of Sobeys Inc.

Infarm said that, by 2025, it expects to scale to 100 growing centers, with a growing capacity of 3 million square feet. As a result, over the next five years, Canadian consumers can expect to see a range of new Infarm produce items — such as tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, mushrooms, pre-cut salads and potted plants — added to the current selection of herbs, leafy greens and microgreens now available in grocery store aisles, the company said.

In turn, Infarm’s Canadian team of 97 employees stands to grow more than 50% to 160 by the year’s end, working from sites in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba.

“We’re delighted with what has been an extremely positive and successful partnership with the Sobeys family of retailers,” stated Erez Galonska, CEO at Infarm. “This expansion deal represents one of the largest rollouts of any vertical farming company in North America to date as we aim to offer local, high-quality produce to people everywhere.”

Founded in 2013 by Osnat Michaeli and brothers Erez and Guy Galonska, Infarm operates more than 1,300 farms in stores and growing centers worldwide and has partnered with over 30 major retailers in Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States and Switzerland. U.S. retail partners include The Kroger Co., Whole Foods Market and Amazon Fresh. International grocery retail partnes include Aldi Süd, Auchan, Carrefour, Casino, E. Leclerc, Edeka, Farmdrop, Intermarché, Irma, Kaufland, Kinokuniya, Marks & Spencer, Metro, Migros, Selfridges, Selgros and Summit.

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