RoboCrop: Ocado sows a £17 million investment into vertical farming

July 1, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Ocado has purchased a 58% stake in Jones Food Company, Europe’s largest operating vertical farm. It has also entered into a three-way joint venture called ‘Infinite Acres’ which aims to develop and sell vertical farming systems to other businesses.

What does this mean?

In vertical farming, crops are grown on a series of levels indoors, using minimal land, water and almost no pesticides. Jones currently uses a vertical farming system that grows herbs in stacked trays under 12km of LED lights in a warehouse in Scunthorpe. It then deploys a robot named Frank to move trays of coriander, parsley and basil throughout the supply chain, from seed to germination to harvest. Through the acquisition of Jones Food, Ocado can use its knowledge of automation and distribution to make Jones more efficient, streamline its product flow and increase production.

The Infinite Acres venture is a project between Ocado, 80 Acres, a company that grows vegetables in the world’s first fully automated indoor farm, and Priva Holdings, a Dutch technology-horticulture firm. Infinite Acres will be a 4-year project which develops and sells off-the-shelf vertical farming systems to businesses worldwide.

Ocado hopes to use the investment to grow their own herbs and vegetables, which can then be supplied through its robot-run distribution centres internationally. The company even recently invested in a food robot firm called Karakuri last month for £4.8m.

The investment also spells a fruitful future for Ocado’s customers. The online grocer currently sells Waitrose products via its website in the UK. Next year however, it will serve Marks & Spencer under a £750m joint venture, raising the prospect of specialist robot farms supplying the 134-year-old high street retailer.

What's the big picture effect?

Vertical farming is an emerging industry, gaining popularity due to its environmental sustainability. Jones Food powers their farm using solar energy, wind turbines and recycled water, attracting environmentally conscious customers.

Ocado has a history for marketing its high-tech robot grocery picking and packing technology to retailers around the world. Having partnerships with Groupe Casino in France, Sobeys in Canada and ICA Group in Sweden, it already has a potential market for farming systems, in which Infinite Acres can act as a supplier for vertical farms.

Such a strategic partnership in vertical farming will help address consumers’ growing interest in freshness and sustainability. Infinite Acres will use artificial intelligence and climate control systems to design the infrastructure to create environmentally friendly farms. Ocado could use this technology to become the world’s farmer, ensuring produce can be delivered to consumer kitchens within an hour of picking.

With Infinite Acres, Ocado can expand the vertical farming industry by providing international retailers with infrastructure and software to develop their own online grocery businesses to compete with the likes of Amazon.

Report written by Evania S

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