Ocado has thus far made a name for itself in the world of online grocery delivery and fulfillment, but new moves see the company stepping out of the supermarket and into the farm — the indoor farm, to be exact.
One such move is Ocado’s announcement that it will partner with Dutch firm Priva and U.S.-based 80 Acres to create a new vertical farming company called Infinite Acres.
According to a press release, Infinite Acres will create a turn-key indoor farming solution meant to grow year-round produce close to densely populated urban areas. The idea is in keeping with many indoor and/or vertical farming initiatives out there now: get greens to the grocery store on the same day they’re harvested.
The company will design and install fully automated farms with custom LEDs, finely tuned climate controls, and other software tools that match clients’ specific needs around things like location and crop selection. Additionally, 80 Acres Farms will send its own growers to operate the farm, from managing the tech platform to harvesting the actual food.
80 Acres already offers an automated indoor farming platform to U.S. farmers, while Priva makes hardware and software tools aimed at better indoor climate control, water conservation, and energy savings.
Where UK-based Ocado comes in is with its tech know-how around things like predictive analytics, logistics, and automation. The company is known in the U.S. for its ongoing partnership with Kroger, with which it operates warehouses full of smart robots that can pack groceries and handle other food-related tasks.
In terms of involvement in vertical farming, Infinite Acres is just the start. Company CEO Tim Steiner noted in the press release that Ocado hopes to “co-locate vertical farms within or next to our Customer Fulfillment Centres and Ocado Zoom’s micro-fulfillment centres so that we can offer the very freshest and most sustainable produce that could be delivered to a customers’ kitchen within an hour of it being picked.”
No word yet on whether robots will be scurrying around those farms in future, though that wouldn’t be so surprising given the level of automation companies are trying to pack into indoor farms nowadays. Infinite Acres will join the likes of Liberty Produce and Australia’s VFS in trying to automate as many aspects of the indoor farm as possible.
Ocado also announced today it had purchased a majority stake in vertical farming company Jones Foods Co., and will use its tech to improve efficiency in the grow process and possibly even integrate the system with Ocado Zoom, for delivery. Jones Foods Co. is Europe’s largest operating vertical farm, with the capacity to grow 420 tons of leafy greens per year. Ocado’s investment in the company could mean Steiner’s aforementioned vision of co-locating vertical farms near Ocado fulfillment centers will become a reality in the near future.