Last year indoor grow system Verdical beat our 14 other food innovation companies and took home the trophy at the 2017 Smart Kitchen Summit (SKS) Startup Showcase. CEO Andrew Deitz pitched onstage about how Verdical’s indoor platform for hydroponic gardening would allow restaurants, hotels, cafeterias, and more to grow greens and herbs in their own kitchen, making fresh produce more accessible year-round while reducing food travel and waste.
When we left them last year, Verdical had just won a $10,000 cash prize and was gearing up to “revolutionize kitchens across the nation.” This week I checked in with Deitz to see where the startup is, one year on.
Verdical now has four customers, all in the Bay Area: Michelin-starred restaurant Jardiniere, 25-store pizza chain Pizza My Heart, the Marin Country Day School, and Berkeley dining spot Saha. All in all, there are 17 Verdical units currently in the field (so to speak).
Though he wouldn’t give details, Deitz also said that Verdical would soon be expanding outside the Bay Area with national — and even global — customers.
Like most other indoor grow systems on the market, Verdical currently offers just herbs and microgreens. This certainly limits what they can provide, but they’re experimenting within the boundaries. For example, at Jardiniere Verdical isn’t just growing garden-variety (ha) basil. Instead, they developed seed pods for things like gem marigold, wasabi mustard, and blue Ethiopian mustard. “We’re providing unique, highly-differentiated stuff that they couldn’t get other places, but can grow right here,” said Deitz.
Starting at $200 per month, customers get the Verdical hardware unit, all the plants they can grow, and access to the Verdical App that controls the growing platform, manages inventory, and provides education about new ingredients. According to Deitz, the price is cost neutral to the current herb and microgreen spend of their customers. Since Verdical works with everyone from a school to a Michelin-starred restaurant, I would imagine their monthly spend on microgreens and herbs varies pretty wildly, but Deitz said it’s actually surprisingly consistent.
This year Tabard VC, a food and agtech venture capital firm, invested an undisclosed amount in Verdical. Several angel investors have also funded the startup, though Deitz wouldn’t disclose details.
Verdical has teamed up with TE Connectivity, using the tech company’s sensors to monitor humidity, moisture, external temperature, water level, and water quality in their grow units. The two connected at the SKS last year and have been building a partnership together ever since. Verdical started using TE sensors in their early prototypes six months ago. “We helped them figure out how to better partner with startups,” said Deitz. “And they’re helping us figure out how to connect from the field all the way into somebody’s stomach.”
Since last year’s Smart Kitchen Summit, quite a few companies have made strides to bring indoor grow systems to restaurants. Farmery also installs indoor hydroponic grow units in restaurants. Farmshelf recently put one of their hydroponic mini-farms in a New York Oath Pizza location. On a slightly larger scale, but Freight Farms installs and manages indoor farms in shipping containers for use in corporate cafeterias and more. And that’s not even taking into account companies working on residential or large-scale indoor farms.
While he wasn’t sure about the growing mechanics of other indoor farming systems, Deitz was confident that Verdical would distinguish itself from the pack with its agtech. “We’re innovative because we’re growing with a soil-based medium,” he explained. By harnessing the water purifying and nutrient delivery powers of soil, he claims they can grow produce more efficiently. He also told me that using soil is a safer bet than going with hydro or aquaponics: that way, even if there’s a power outage, the plants can still get what they need to survive.
Deitz, however, doesn’t think that on-site indoor farming is zero-sum game. “The market is so big, it’ll take us a while to bump into each other,” he said, referring to Verdical’s competitors.
According to Deitz, Verdical will soon be announcing new customers and expanded partnerships (we’ll keep you updated). But as they grow, the company will continue to focus on its original goal: connecting people to their food source. “That’s where you can see a shift in consciousness,” he said. Until then, if you’re in the Bay Area, drop in on one of Verdical’s restaurant customers and taste fresh-picked some exotic microgreens.