A $200 million investment in indoor farming startup Plenty has caught the attention of venture capitalists and those who follow the emerging world of tech-driven, commercial indoor farming. What separates the San Francisco-based agtech company from other indoor farming manufacturers is its claim to be able to grow everything except for tree fruit (lemons, oranges, etc…) and root vegetables. The vast majority of competitors focus solely on greens, herbs, strawberries and the occasional tomato.
Perhaps of even greater significant than its crop yield are the profiles of Plenty’s new investors. The high profile roster for this latest round include Softbank CEO, Masayoshi Son, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Attached to each new investor comes an opportunity. For example, Son could bring Plenty to Japan and the rest of Asia. Schmidt’s VC firm Innovation Endeavors has CropX in its portfolio which boasts an adjacent technology that offers adaptive crop irrigation.
Bezos, on the other hand, stands out because of Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods. The intersection of Plenty with bricks and mortar stores, home delivery of groceries, restaurant delivery and meal kits is a near harmonic convergence. Controlling a prime part of the value chain that goes from farm to table or farm to home puts Amazon in a prime position to level its competitors in a number of markets.
The implementations of Plenty with Whole Foods run from the obvious to the imaginative. It’s easy to see Amazon being able to offer premium produce directly to customers via home delivery, but it also could use Plenty to draw more people into its retail stores. Taking a page from Infarm, which has its indoor farm in a Berlin supermarket, Whole Foods adding sleek vertical farms to its stores would be a lure to its clientele—a predominately upscale group prone to loving shiny, new objects. Not only would shoppers take notice of this high-touch addition, the farms would have the practical objective of selling fresh goods to fussy shoppers.
Whole Foods’ profile perfectly fits this scenario. In past years, innovation was the company’s strong suit. The Austin-based chain was among the first premium supermarkets to feature in-store, full-service restaurants as well as bars featuring local brews on tap. Noted for working closely with local farmers, it would make sense for Whole Foods to select local organic growers to take ownership of and maintain the Plenty-built vertical farms.
Whole Foods and Amazon could make for an exciting team in advancing the commercial aspects of Plenty. With Softbank’s Son in the mix, Japan and Asia are a solid target for expansion, but Europe is a far larger and more immediate major opportunity. One sign of that Europe is a hot agtech market is seen via Germany’s darling, Infarm. Infarm’s successful implementation in Berlin also has caught the attention of investors and partners. Now working with German grocery chain, EDEKA, Infarm has recently closed a four million Euro round led by Berlin’s Cherry Ventures.
Showing his astute understanding of the market for its vertical farming technology, Infarm co-founder Osnat Michaeli outlines how her company’s growth has defined the future of indoor farming in Europe and beyond.
“When we started out, we were looked at as ‘idealistic dreamers’. In part, this might have been because we were self-taught and not many believed that we had the necessary expertise needed to invent a new agricultural solution,” Michaeli told TechCrunch in a recent interview.
“The challenge [now] is in finding the right partners. Our initial focus is on supermarket chains, online food retailers, wholesalers, hotels, and other food-related businesses, for whom the superior quality and range of produce — with no fluctuation in costs — makes Infarm an attractive partner. In return, we can reintroduce the joy of growing to the urban population”.
Image credit: Flickr user Euro Slice under creative commons license