Square Roots is setting a new standard for the controlled agricultural environment (CEA) industry with its modular system of 'ready-to-go farms' made from retrofitted shipping containers outfitted with the company's proprietary hardware and cloud-connect software, which can grow a variety of leafy greens and herbs, said EVP of sales and marketing Raji Iyer Margolin.
"We consider ourselves the technology leader in the urban indoor farming space... Because of our modular tech platform that we utilize," Margolin told FoodNavigator-USA, who explained that what differentiates Square Roots from other players in the CEA space are its modular, hydroponic "grow zones," which can be configured both vertically and horizontally allowing the overall growing capacity to seamlessly scale up or down depending on the demand in that local market, noted Margolin.
"They serve as ready-to-go farms that can be shipped to literally any site in the world," said Margolin.
Originally launched in Brooklyn, New York, Square Roots built its second modular farm system in fall 2019 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, colocated at one of Gordon Food Service's distribution centers enable efficient and fast delivery of its products to retail locations.
"The design that we were able to launch in Grand Rapids is something that will see for future farms as well," said Margolin.
Answering consumer demand for packaged salad mix
While Square Roots' Brooklyn farm is still in strong operation today, serving stores in the New York City area with a variety of herbs, its Grand Rapids operation will enable the company's first significant push into retail and expansion into the $8.1bn packaged salad category.
"We’re looking to disrupt the packaged salad category, which has seen very little innovation in recent years based on the research we’ve done," said Margolin.
According to SPINS data provided by Margolin, total dollar sales for the indoor segment have grown 26% vs. one year ago outpacing the 10% dollar sales growth the broader leafy green segment registered. And household penetration is still just a fraction of the comparable organic leafy green category (8% vs. nearly 80%).
"This is really the time for indoor segment. The data’s showing us a lot of different signs for the runway ahead," she said.
'Redefining what healthy means for the category'
As part of its disruption to the packaged salad category dominated by baby spinach and romaine lettuce, Square Roots has introduced two new packaged salad mix varieties -- spring mix and super mix -- each combining a blend of baby and microgreens which will be hitting retail shelves throughout the month.
"Produce is already viewed as already a really healthy category, but I would say we’re taking packaged salads to a 2.0 and redefining what healthy means for that category. We’re making our items with refreshing blends of microgreens really as the star ingredient and including really unique crops (such as mizuna and tatsoi) to add this burst of flavor and taste on a sandwich or salad or any other usage occasion," said Margolin.
"Particularly in the salad mix category, consumers are really looking for that crunch and sensory experience," she added.
To capture consumer interest and set itself apart from other indoor-grown leafy green players as well as packaged organic and conventional salad mixes, Margolin noted how the company has been highly strategic with its marketing language.
"We’ve found this balance of what’s familiar to consumers as well as what’s going to drive innovation and interest and trial. We’ve taken category cues in our product naming to really lower the barriers to trial. So we’re calling our items very familiar names such as a ‘spring mix’ and ‘super mix’ while also using key language on pack such as ‘nutrient packed’ to really highlight the unique benefits," she said.
An added bonus of being co-located with GFS is that Square Roots is often reaching consumers in many instances less than 24 hours.
"We also give that value back with having an extended shelf life... we’re talking weeks not days," added Margolin.
Every Square Roots product also includes a unique bar code in which a consumer can scan and pull up a timeline for the product, including when and who harvested it.
"We’re working really closely with our retail partners to make sure these products are merchandised along with other packaged salads to make sure that consumers are really queued up immediately on what the proposition actually is," said Margolin.