Vertical farming is quickly becoming a popular way to grow organic food close to major urban centers. Despite the steady rise of this technology, the food grown in vertical farms is still perceived by many potential consumers as inaccessible, available only in high-end or specialty stores. Consumers in California will soon be able to buy vertical-farm-grown greens in Walmart stores throughout the state.
As part of a $400 million Series E funding round that also included SoftBank Group’s tech-focused Vision Fund, Walmart bought an equity stake in South San Francisco-based vertical farming startup Plenty.
The move makes Walmart the first major US retailer to put a significant investment into vertical farming, and according to Martin Mundo, who oversees Walmart’s US produce purchasing, the company’s choice to invest in Plenty was very intentional; Walmart executives looked into several other indoor farming companies over the course of four years, but chose Plenty because of its high yields and its work towards growing fruits and vegetables.
Plenty’s newly-appointed CEO, Arama Kukutai, told Reuters that the company increased yields in its leafy green growing rooms by 700 percent in just 2 years.
Plenty’s technology is slightly different from that of other vertical farms, most of which grow crops in horizontal layers of stacked trays.
The company says this system enables them to use just one percent of the land required by traditional farming while improving yields 150-350 times per acre.
Like one of Europe’s biggest vertical farms, located in Denmark, Plenty also uses robots to plant, feed, and harvest its crops.
This is where the greens for Walmart stores will be sourced from, with some sold under Plenty’s brand and others under Walmart’s private label.
The Walmart deal, Kukutai said, “Creates the opportunity to actually get to scale, not just being a niche provider of expensive greens, as the category has somewhat been accused of in the past.”