Ocado invests £17m in vertical farms

Ocado is investing £17m in developing vertical farms to grow produce metres away from its distribution centres.

The online retailer said it would be entering into a joint venture with 80 Acres, a US vertical farming business, and Priva, an industrial systems company, to enable deliveries to customers “within an hour of picking”.

Vertical farming involves the production of food in indoor facilities where crops are grown on a series of stacked levels and the environment can be precisely controlled.

Produce can be grown year round without the need for pesticides or fungicides.  

Tim Steiner, CEO at Ocado, said the investments would allow the retailer to focus on customer concerns such as freshness and sustainability.

“Our hope ultimately is to co-locate vertical farms within or next to our fulfillment centres so that we can offer the very freshest and most sustainable produce that could be delivered to a customer’s kitchen within an hour of it being picked,” he said.

Meiny Prins, CEO of Priva, said the joint venture is in alignment with global sustainability needs as the world’s population continues to grow.

"We can develop optimal environments in which plants and food crops experience the best way to grow indoors, using leading-edge technology and solutions which result in substantially lower energy and water use, as well as reducing food waste."

Ocado has also bought a stake in Jones Food Company (JFC), Europe’s largest operating vertical farm based in Scunthorpe.

JFC’s facility has more than 5,000 sq metres of production area and 12 km of LED lights to produce leafy greens and herbs for its UK customers. Its capacity is expected to grow to 420 tonnes per year as it expands the crop types it produces.

Ocado has made substantial investments in technology. In 2016, the retailer opened its Andover fulfillment centre where battery-powered robots are able to move boxes of groceries around on a grid.

However, earlier this year an investigation was launched following a fire at the centre which started in a section of the grid, where goods are stored at ambient temperature.

According to the BBC, investigators said the fire had been caused by an electrical fault in a battery charging unit.

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