UK – Ocado Group has announced that it is investing about US$21.6 million (£17 million) in vertical farming as it aims to become a leader in sustainable vertical farming.

The company which is one of the leading British grocers has unveiled two complementary investments looking to bring its innovation and automation expertise in the fast-growing segment.

This includes acquisition of a 58% stake in Jones Food Company (“JFC”), Europe’s leading operating vertical farm.

Based in Scunthorpe, JFC produces leafy greens and herbs for UK customers with its capacity expected to grow to 420 tonnes per annum.

It has more than 5,000 square metres of production area with plans to expand crop types and production across the UK.

The acquisition combines Ocado’s world-leading logistics and automation systems with JFC’s advanced growing technology to produce and deliver fresh produce to customers.

“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,” said Tim Steiner, Ocado’s CEO.

“Our hope ultimately is to co-locate vertical farms within or next to our CFCs and Ocado Zoom’s micro fulfilment 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.”

New joint venture for sustainable vertical farming

Ocado has also signed a joint venture agreement with 80 Acres Farms Inc. (“80 Acres”) and Priva Holding BV (“Priva”), both leaders in the vertical farming industry.

The new venture called Infinite Acres brings together a unique set of skills from the three partners.

Priva is a leading industrial systems provider to the horticultural industry based in the Netherlands, with a wide range of products and solutions for climate control and process automation.

80 Acres is a leading vertical farming business with a deep level of plant science knowledge and operations management based near Cincinnati, Ohio.

“Infinite Acres’ mission is in perfect alignment with global sustainability needs as our planet grows to 10 billion people by mid-century, with most living in urban areas,” said Meiny Prins, CEO of Priva.

“We can develop optimal environments in which plants and food crops experience the best way to grow indoors, using leading-edge technology and solutions which result in substantially lower energy and water use, as well as reducing food waste.”

The transaction is expected to be completed by June 30.