While a fast-growing category, produce varieties (e.g. leafy greens, herbs, and flowering plants such as tomatoes and strawberries) grown using indoor farming methods are often indistinguishable on a shelf where the consumer makes a three- to five-second decision on what products they'll add to their carts. And for companies such as Square Roots, there is added pressure to communicate its point of differentiation in the $36bn US packaged salad category dominated by legacy players.
Square Roots' top considerations and goals when rebranding included ensuring the packaging reflects the locally-grown and zero pesticide nature of the products, and the added benefit for consumers that it stays fresh for weeks in their fridges opposed to days due to shorter trips from farm to store.
Working with independent strategy and design company COLLINS, Square Roots overhauled every visual aspect of the products -- from the logo to color palette and photography.
"The branding exercise was really about how do we tell our story? It’s one of lots of technology and responsible and sustainable practices, but also one of young farmers and a whole lot of love," Square Roots co-founder and CEO Tobias Peggs told FoodNavigator-USA. He noted how the company has galvanized new, younger generation of farmers excited about the intersection of technology and sustainable food production.
The company’s newly-designed packaging features a vertical label orientation, serving as a nod to Square Roots’ vertical farming beginnings, set on a thinner label format to showcase more of the company’s product with a clear, bold type hierarchy that stands out on the shelf, according to Square Roots.
"We have come up with something that is modern and very arresting on shelf," said Peggs.
Another key aspect of renewed brand storytelling is the company's signature QR code which consumers can scan to gain a full picture of the food from where it was grown and when to who grew it.
"We see almost every day on social media people discovering that feature, and we’ve seen our [QR code] usage figures skyrocket," he said, adding that the new packaging design will be rolling out to retailers this week.
'Infinitely higher' retailer interest
"Our business today is about 50% food service and about 50% retail," said Peggs.
According to Peggs, retailers have gone from being "kind of interested" in CEA-grown products five or so years ago to a level of "infinitely higher" interest in carrying such products.
"We’ve got these big multichain stores that believe the time is right to start communicating CEA value propositions to the end consumer," said Peggs.
Square Roots has built its retail presence to 250 stores around the country (predominantly in New York and Michigan where it has set up its high-tech vertical farms) including Whole Foods Market, FreshDirect, Fresh Thyme Market, Meijer’s market format stores, Morton Williams, Busch’s Fresh Food Market, SpartanNash corporate stores, and Gordon Food Service Stores.
Peggs also noted how product quality and taste of indoor-grown produce has improved drastically in the past five to ten years as technologies and growing technique have matured.
"We can compete head-to-head with organic farmers and certainly conventional farmers. Frankly today, there’s no reason why any perishable product shouldn’t be grown locally in a controlled climate," he said.
How does Square Roots grow its food?
Square Roots and its indoor growing methods are unique in the sense that the company converts shipping containers into teched-out "grow zones" equipped with company's proprietary hardware and cloud-connected software to enable both vertical and horizontal growing. Originally launched in Brooklyn, New York, Square Roots built its second modular farm system in fall 2019 in Grand Rapids, Mich., colocated at one of Gordon Food Service's distribution centers enable efficient and fast delivery of its products to retail locations.
"We can meet demand in any given city within four months from the first conversation," said Peggs.