SOUTH AFRICA – Pick n Pay has become the first retailer in South Africa to launch in-store vertical farms.
The initiative is being developed in partnership with CAN-Agri – a vertical, hydroponic, greenhouse farm in Pretoria – which has been a supplier to Pick n Pay for over three years.
Vertical farming is a sustainable and low carbon farming method using 95% less water, 85% less fertiliser, and no pesticides.
Under Pick n Pay’s plan, the retailer will grow various lettuce leaves and herbs from seeds, on the vertical farms set up at the retailer’s fruit and vegetable section.
It will comprise of eight growing stacks, each containing 10 plants, to serve as a demo farm replicating CAN-Agri’s commercial facility which has 24 rows with 200 ‘growing stacks’ spanning six meters high.
Can-Agri maximises sunlight from its greenhouse, but the Pick n Pay stores will utilize grow lights as the produce won’t have exposure to natural light.
While customers won’t be able to buy produce directly from the in-store vertical farms, CAN-Agri will supply a new range of products, pre-packed in punnets made from recycled plastic, from its farm.
This will include an assortment of salad leaves with different lettuces and herbs, whole baby butter lettuce heads and cos leaves.
A QR code will be added onto the packaging later this year to let customers track their produce from seed to table.
Customers will be able to see where their food was grown, when was it planted, what were the environmental conditions it grows in, what nutrients it received, when was it harvested, packed, and supplied to the store.
The essence of the displays is to pique the interest of and strongly appeal to environmentally-minded customers, but especially the youth, who will be able to see first-hand how produce grows and help connect them more to farming.
“Understanding the provenance of our food is really important, and having the opportunity to share this environmentally friendly way of delivering delicious, safe and sustainable produce with our customers, while they shop, is a huge opportunity,” said Liz van Niekerk, head of produce and horticulture at Pick n Pay.
Flagship stores Pick n Pay On Nicol in Sandton and Pick n Pay Constantia in Cape Town are the first stores to pilot the vertical farms.
The system has already been trialled in a number of international supermarkets in Europe and the US, including Marks & Spencer and Whole Foods.
According to the United Nations, the global food supply will have to increase by 50% by 2050 to accommodate the projected demand for the world’s growing population.
At the same time, there is an urgent need to cut greenhouse gas emissions but agriculture is one of the greatest contributors to global warming accounting for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
Francois van der Merwe, Chief executive of CAN-Agri says that vertical farming is expected to grow by 25.5% over the next eight years due to the increased demand for urban agriculture and adoption of environment-friendly production of fruit and vegetables.
Van Niekerk added that Pick n Pay is always looking for alternatives to lessen its impact on the environment, and vertical farming is a way to help increase food supply of certain produce, in a more sustainable way.