“Opening Plenty’s first commercial-scale farm in Compton makes it possible for us to provide California retailers with a reliable supply of fresh leafy greens year-round. From expanding our presence in Whole Foods Market to bringing new, leading California retailers like Gelson’s on board, we’re giving more consumers access to regional produce that is grown clean,” Worth said in a press release.
Enabling retail expansion through new facility, consumer demands
Earlier this year, Plenty opened its Compton farm, which allowed it to scale its production of leafy greens to 4.5m pounds annually. With this facility, Plenty will be able to provide its Baby Arugula, Baby Kale, Crispy Lettuce, and Curly Baby Spinach throughout the state.
“Prior to this farm in Compton, we actually had a small farm in San Francisco. ... That farm in San Francisco allowed us to serve a smaller quantity of Whole Food Stores for the last four years. With the coming online and the opening of the Compton farm, we're able to expand that ... to all Whole Foods in California, as we announced, as well as to take on additional customers in Southern California, in this case, including Gelson's.”
Plenty's expansion “[coincides] with a long-term megatrend in food,” where consumers are looking for better-for-you and more natural products, and the company is delivering pesticide-free, bleach-free vegetables that don’t require washing before eating, Worth said.
"There's always what our customers say versus what our customers do. And you know all of us who sell healthier products obviously need to be aware of customer behavior, not just customer expressed desire show."
What about the challenges (and opportunities) facing indoor farming?
Despite progress made in several areas, the vertical and indoor farming sector has been put under the microscope with several vertical farms going under and concerns around their energy use. While acknowledging these challenges, Worth isn’t surprised by the recent developments as this follows a trend around similar disruptive technologies.
"It's not surprising to me at all to see a shakeout happening... You're going to have some things that work [and] some things not work,” Worth said. “We're at this business because we think there's a very strong, long-term outlook for the business. It doesn't mean that there won't be shakeouts and bumps along the way, but that's why we're doing this for the 10-year time horizon, not the one-year time horizon.”
While industry challenges will persist, Plenty’s “strategy from the very beginning has been to invest in the technology and to make sure that we have something that works before we start scaling it,” and the company has been supported by its retail partners, Worth said.
Vertical farming has an opportunity to tackle some of the agriculture threats of global warming by providing a way to create food in a more controlled environment, Worth explained.
"We're just entering fire season here in California, and you don't have to be at where the fire is you can be hundreds of miles away to have smoke damage to crops and fields and people's lives," Worth said. "What we're really trying to do is ... to give everyone tools they need to tackle these challenges as they come down the pike."
Breaking ground on its next facility: Strawberry factory in Richmond
Plenty is also preparing for its next retail expansion with the help of a Richmond, Va., facility to grow strawberries, made possible with a partnership with Driscoll’s, Worth said. Announced in 2020, the partnership allows Plenty to incorporate Driscoll’s proprietary genetics into its indoor farming technology, which will allow it to grow strawberries throughout the year and in areas where it's normally not grown.
“Steel is going up; row rooms are all framed up. So, that's not something that we are imagining for the future; it's something that's actually happening with construction crews out there as we speak. So that'll be a strawberry farm. We've been working with Driscoll's for over two years now on a partnership that started as a technical partnership and now has grown into a commercial partnership.”