Little Leaf Farms raises $90m to further scale hydroponic greenhouse-grown lettuce

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

In 2021, demand for controlled environment agriculture will soar, says Paul Sellew, founder and CEO of Little Leaf Farms. Photo Credit: Little Leaf Farms
In 2021, demand for controlled environment agriculture will soar, says Paul Sellew, founder and CEO of Little Leaf Farms. Photo Credit: Little Leaf Farms

Related tags hydroponics Little Leaf Farms

Hydroponic lettuce grower Little Leaf Farms has raised $90m in a recent funding round led by Equilibrium Capital to fully fund its East Coast expansion and build out new greenhouse sites in the region.

Other investors in the latest funding round include Coppermine Capital, investor Bill Helman, and Pilot House Associates. Bank of America has also committed more than $20m to date, with an additional $20m planned in financing to support Little Leaf Farms​’ growth.

Equilibrium CEO David Chen, who will be joining Little Leaf Farms’ board of directors, said: “Equilibrium Capital’s growth equity investment in Little Leaf Farms brings together a major player in next-generation indoor agriculture with the leader in CEA (controlled environment agriculture) investments. Little Leaf Farms is revolutionizing the industry with its sustainable indoor growing technologies, to grow fresh, nutritious great tasting lettuces and mixes.”

“We are supportive of Little Leaf Farms’ efficient growing methods, using sunlight and captured rainwater, to grow delicious lettuce that only travels locally so it remains flavorful,” ​said Randy Mitchell, a senior vice president of global commercial banking at Bank of America. “We believe in the company’s environmentally and socially responsible mission as they expand into new markets on the East Coast.”

How does Little Leaf Farms grow its lettuce?

Founder and CEO of Little Leaf Farms, Paul Sellew, started the company in 2015 with Tim Cunniff, Backyard Farms’ former EVP of sales and marketing, to disrupt the West Coast-dominated lettuce industry (98% of the US lettuce supply is grown in Arizona and California, according to the company) by establishing efficient lettuce growing systems in New England capable of growing greens year-round.

Little Leaf Farms founder and CEO, Paul Sellew

At its indoor greenhouse facilities, plants are grown hydroponically with sunlight (supplemented with LED light) and captured rain water that falls on the roof (the company rarely taps groundwater reserves). Once the lettuce is ready for harvest, it is transported by conveyer belt to be packaged and shipped by truck to a local grocery store (within 24 hours from the time of harvest).

The entire operation is hands-free as no one is actually touching the raw lettuce and uses 90% less water than field grown greens in the process.

Growth strategy and momentum

Based in Massachusetts, Little Leaf Farms has been expanding its operations in the East Coast. Last year, the company purchased 180 acres of land in Pennsylvania to build a hydroponic greenhouse facility and announced plans to build another greenhouse in North Carolina to serve the Southeastern US region.

The company also doubled capacity​at its current facility in Devens, Massachusetts in 2020 to 10 acres of hydroponic fields capable of producing more than two million packages of lettuce each month and extending delivery and sales to New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

“After opening our third greenhouse in Massachusetts last summer amid the pandemic, we have proven that we can bring the company to scale unlike any other,”​ said Paul Sellew, founder and CEO of Little Leaf Farms.

The company, said Sellew, is positioned to disrupt the traditional lettuce industry and “meet customer demand in a year when controlled environment agriculture is expected to soar.”

“We continue to have record sales every week, and we only see that continuing​."

Little Leaf Farms doubled its sales from 2019 to $38m in 2020 and said that it leads packaged salad sales in the Northeast. Its products – packaged baby greens available in three varieties – are sold in more than 2,500 stores throughout the East Coast.

With the new funding, the company will be able to service more large retailers and food service providers.

“Having Equilibrium Capital, our existing shareholders and Bank of America so solidly behind us as we expand is critical to our momentum,”​ added Sellew.

“Even as we grow, we know we will continue to give our loyal and happy customers the best, most flavorful lettuce they have ever tried. We are very excited about our future.”

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