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Ocado invests in vertical farming so it can bring fresh produce to its customers fast

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Ocado has made a series of investments in vertical farming that it says will help it bring fresh produce to its customers fast. It aims, ultimately, to build vertical farms close enough to its fulfilment centres that produce could be in a customer’s kitchen within an hour of picking.

The online grocer and technology company, ranked Top100 in IRUK Top500 research, is spending £17m on stakes in two vertical farming businesses to produce freshly-grown crops close to its fulfilment centres. 

It has bought 58% of Jones Food, Europe’s largest vertical farm. From its Scunthorpe base it is producing greens and herbs for UK customers. It is also setting up a joint venture with Priva Holding and 80 Acres Farms. Ocado will bring robotics, automation, and machine learning to a the partnership, while Priva brings industrial systems. 80 Acres is a vertical farming business near Cincinnnati, Ohio. 

Tim Steiner, Ocado chief executive, said the investments would enable it to “address fundamental consumer concerns on freshness and sustainability and build on new technologies that will revolutionise the way customers access fresh produce. Our hope ultimately is to co-locate vertical farms within or next to our CFCs and Ocado Zoom’s micro fulfilment centres so that we can offer the very freshest and most sustainable products that could be delivered to a customer’s kitchen within an hour of it being picked.”

Mike Zelkind, chief executive of 80 Acres, said: “With Priva and 80 Acres Farms’ extensive horticulture, engineering, operational and food industry expertise, along with Ocado’s predictive analytics, automation, and comprehensive system development, the partnership will provide its customers with everything from state-of-the-art facilities with uniquely developed crop recipes and the right unit economics, to an option for facility management with yield guarantees, product packaging, branding, marketing and distribution.”

James Lloyd-Jones, chief executive of Jones Foods said it was delighted with the Ocado partnership. “We are certain that the combination of their world-leading logistics and automation systems coupled with our advanced growing technology will transform the way customers experience fresh produce – delivered fresh to their door a matter of hours from ordering. JFC has always been committed to minimising the environmental impact of agricultural production and we see this partnership accelerating our ambitious growth strategy to make a wider variety of vertically-farmed produce available to even more customers.”

The investment is another example of UK supermarkets investing both in farming and in automation and robotics on that farm. Waitrose runs its own farm where it is trialling the use of sowing, weeding and monitoring ’farmbot’ robots. 

Image courtesy of Ocado

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