Inside Plenty's First Commercial Vertical Farm Powering Walmart Private Label
May 18, 2023
The indoor LED vertical farming industry has taken nearly two decades to evolve, with Aerofarms incorporating in 2004 and opening its first facility in a former paintball and laser tag venue in 2015 in Newark, NJ. The promise of such technology circles around a few key trends: the growth in global population to 9+ billion by 2050, 80% of whom will live in urban areas, as well as environmental concerns around arable farmland, topsoil erosion, and water scarcity. Over the years, a handful of startups have garnered billions in funding such as Bowery Farming, 80 Acres, and Plenty. The latter has raised $941mm, the largest of its competitors, thanks to investors like Softbank Vision Fund, and strategics like Walmart and Driscoll’s. Investors were sold on plummeting LED costs, water efficiencies around hydroponic farming, and the yield productivities that make farms 350-400x more efficient than conventional agriculture when it comes to pounds grown per square foot.
But despite Plenty’s massive backing, it has hit a number of setbacks on its path to commercialization that once promised to launch 500 farms across the world in metropolitan areas with over a million residents. In 2020, its Co-Founder Matt Barnard stepped down as CEO, and early last year, the company finally announced board member and investor Arama Kukutai as his replacement. It also once touted a handful of former Tesla engineers and executives, most of whom appear to have left the company. In 2017, Barnard originally told the press that the company would be ready to launch its first farm in 2018, launching multiple farms per month by 2019. Today, nearly a decade after its initial founding and 3.5 years after its construction announcement, Plenty is launching its first commercial-scale farm capable of producing 4.5mm pounds per year for Walmart (private label), Bristol Farms, and Whole Foods locations in California and select areas of Nevada. This comes as the company winds down its first farm in South San Francisco that once sold to local Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowls, and online grocer Good Eggs. Last week, HNGRY toured the 95k sqft Compton facility to get a firsthand look at Plenty’s technology, which counts 57+ patents.