Ocado has announced a pair of major investment deals to expand into vertical farming.
The retail technology firm has bought a majority stake in Scunthorpe-based Jones Food Company, Europe’s largest operating vertical farm.
It has also entered a three-way joint venture called Infinite Acres with 80 Acre Farms and Priva Holdings to create technology solutions for companies in the fast-growing vertical farming industry.
Vertical farming involves the production of food in indoor facilities where crops are planted on a series of levels so that they can be densely and efficiently produced.
The method has surged in popularity due to its sustainability benefits, which include low wastage, the use of less water and the need for much smaller areas of land.
Ocado said it has invested £17 million in the two deals.
The deal is Ocado’s first move into food production, but follows its £4.75 million investment in food robot firm Karakuri last month.
Ocado said it plans to develop new vertical farms near to its current distribution and technology sites, and that they have the potential to be built near to its partners’ supermarkets.
Tim Steiner, Ocado’s chief executive officer, said: “We believe that our investments today in vertical farming will allow us 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 Customer Fulfilment Centres (CFCs) and Ocado Zoom’s microfulfilment centres so that we can offer the very freshest and most sustainable produce that could be delivered to a customer’s kitchen within an hour of it being picked”.
Jones Food Company currently produces leafy greens and herbs for UK customers across a 5,000 square metre production site.
James Lloyd-Jones, CEO of Jones Food Company (JFC), said: “JFC is delighted that Ocado has chosen to partner and invest with us.
“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.”