Horticultural lighting news: Plenty and Albertson, Fluence expands, and IGS

Aug. 13, 2020
US grocer Albertsons has struck a deal with vertical farm Plenty to carry certain leafy greens across California stores while Fluence has again moved to expand its market and IGS innovates in Scotland.

US grocery conglomerate Albertsons and vertical farm Plenty have struck a deal where Plenty will supply four types of greens across all California Albertson stores. Fluence Bioengineering (an Osram business referred to as Fluence by Osram) has announced a deal with Quality Wholesale to expand distribution of Fluence luminaires across Canada. Scotland-based Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) continues to advance its unique approach to vertical farms and has announced plans to supply Vertegrow in Aberdeenshire.

Plenty and Albertsons

Plenty calls itself a farming technology company and has for several years been perfecting vertical farming techniques in Northern California near technology’s Silicon Valley. Plenty has conducted itself much like a technology company, raising large sums of venture capital to develop the technology-centric approach to farming and presumably to pay for expansion that has yet to happen. The company has sold its leafy and micro greens in the Bay Area but has yet to expand to farms in other geographies as originally promised.

Now Plenty will have a broader supply chain for certain cultivars. Albertsons will carry Plenty’s baby arugula, baby kale, crispy lettuce, and mizuna mix across 430 California stores. Albertsons operates grocers in 34 states under dozens of brand names, but the Plenty deal is just for California at this point. Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Pavilions, and Andronicos stores will ultimately carry the products.

“Albertsons Companies is leading the industry by creating a new partnership model to deliver customers the intensely flavorful and fresh produce of the Plenty farm,” said Matt Barnard, CEO of Plenty. “This is an important milestone for the Plenty team, and we look forward to bringing Albertsons Companies customers the best-tasting and cleanest greens they’ve ever eaten.”

We would note, however, that the partnership seems to misalign somewhat with accepted tenets of vertical farming. As we covered several years back in our first article about LED-based horticultural lighting in vertical farms and controlled environment agriculture (CEA), the vertical farm business model depends somewhat on locating the farm in urban areas near a large customer base. Locating a farm near customers reduces transportation costs and environmental impact, that together with premium-priced products makes the concept feasible.

As we covered relative to the keynote presentation at our HortiCann Light + Tech Event last year, the cost of electricity for lighting vertical farms makes such produce significantly more expensive than, say, lettuce trucked from California’s Central Valley to New York. The Albertsons deal will limit transportation to California, but California is a big state and surely freshness will suffer in cases. Of course, the expansion of availability of Plenty products in California could still come from new farms being constructed that we don’t know specifically about at this point. It has been reported that Plenty has abandoned plans for a Seattle, WA farm but does have plans for a Los Angeles farm.

Fluence and Quality Wholesale

Moving to the Fluence partnership with Quality Wholesale, the deal should expand Fluence’s reach across operations from hobbyist growers to the largest commercial vegetable and cannabis growers. Quality has supplied horticultural products across Canada for twenty years. The supply chain will include garden centers and direct sales to commercial operations.

“Collaborating with Quality Wholesale enables us to expand our footprint and reach more growers across Canada,” said Ron DeKok, vice president of sales for Fluence. “We are proud to partner with a company dedicated to helping customers achieve successful cultivation results that also embodies its namesake by carrying top-of-the-line inventory and offering an experience grounded in quality service.”

Meanwhile, Quality and its customers will get access to the substantial research undertaken by Fluence. “Fluence’s commitment to exploring science, conducting research, and developing technology to increase the efficacy of horticulture lighting thoroughly impressed our team,” said Michael Montagano of Quality Wholesale. “Our focus is to always provide the highest-quality products to our customers. With Fluence, we’re confident that growers are investing in the proven technology that they deserve.”

IGS approach to vertical

Across the Atlantic, IGS is perfecting something of a hybrid approach to supplying AgTech to vertical farmers falling between the turnkey operators selling farms in shipping containers and the companies selling components that must be custom integrated by a farmer to fit a space. IGS offers farms with four growing towers and an attached one-story processing area in what appear to be pre-fab structures. The automated systems can apparently pull racks of plants from the towers and deliver them to the processing area.

A legacy field farmer called Waterside Farm in the Aberdeenshire area has established a new vertical farm operation under the company Vertegrow. The four-tower system will encompass 1343m2 of growing space and will be capable of producing 70 tonnes of produce annually, according to IGS.

“This is an exciting step for IGS and for Vertegrow as we set out to deploy a new vertical farm for a new operator in this space,” said IGS CEO David Farquhar. “With proven experience in traditional farming, and extensive involvement, through its owners, in the food and drink sector, we are confident that this will bring a new and top-quality offering to the local market. Such re-localization of the food supply chain is a feature of post-coronavirus planning we are seeing all over world.”

While Waterside had concentrated on crops such as barley and rye, the new vertical farm will focus on greens. Creation of the Vertegrow operation was funded by Steadman Partners, a UK-based investment firm created by BrewDog (craft brewery famous for a reality TV show) co-founder Martin Dickie.

“Vertegrow is delighted to be working with IGS on this innovative project as we position our farm business to address the challenges of the modern food supply chain,” said Graeme Warren of Vertegrow. “We have spent considerable time identifying the right partners and systems, and the IGS platform stood out as a quality solution which could be configured for our needs. Growing quality, nutritious food in Northeast Scotland will allow us to reduce food miles for our customers. Combined with our renewable energy sources and rainwater harvesting, the efficiency of the IGS system is a key part of our ambition to grow crops in a carbon neutral way. We look forward to continuing to work with IGS as we construct the facility later this year.”

Earlier in this article we mentioned our HortiCann Light+ Tech event. The 2020 rendition is just over two months out. It will be virtual this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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About the Author

Maury Wright | Editor in Chief

Maury Wright is an electronics engineer turned technology journalist, who has focused specifically on the LED & Lighting industry for the past decade. Wright first wrote for LEDs Magazine as a contractor in 2010, and took over as Editor-in-Chief in 2012. He has broad experience in technology areas ranging from microprocessors to digital media to wireless networks that he gained over 30 years in the trade press. Wright has experience running global editorial operations, such as during his tenure as worldwide editorial director of EDN Magazine, and has been instrumental in launching publication websites going back to the earliest days of the Internet. Wright has won numerous industry awards, including multiple ASBPE national awards for B2B journalism excellence, and has received finalist recognition for LEDs Magazine in the FOLIO Eddie Awards. He received a BS in electrical engineering from Auburn University.