Local is the new organic for produce consumers and start-up BrightFarms is giving retailers an unprecedented model to take advantage of the trend. The company builds and operates greenhouses near retail partners which allows for produce to hit store shelves the same day it was picked.
The reasoning is clear: Whole Foods Market’s 2012 Food Shopping Trend Tracker Survey found 47 percent of respondents are willing to pay higher prices for locally produced food. The 2012 Census of Agriculture also found farmers markets have grown by 180 percent since 2006.
Retailers sign long-term, fixed price contracts with BrightFarms in exchange for the construction and operation of their greenhouses. This gives the retailer exclusive access to produce with a level of freshness that may have been previously impossible given their location—which is why BrightFarms is primarily developing greenhouses in the Midwest and Northeast.
BrightFarms’ mission is to minimize the length of the supply chain to benefit both the environment and consumers’ taste buds.
Another unique way BrightFarms is working to improve the quality of food that can be compromised through traditionally long supply chains is the practice of hydroponic farming in their greenhouses. Hydroponic farming is the method of growing plants without soil.
According to BrightFarms CEO Paul Lightfoot, this method appeals to retailers and consumers alike because it cuts down on potential contamination that can result from soil and a plant’s surrounding environment. It also ensures that all of BrightFarms’ produce is free from pesticides.
Hydroponic farming also allows for year-round production in comparison with the seasonal production of a field, which is a major benefit for retailers located far from any traditional farms.
BrightFarms’ model also minimizes environmental impact. According to Lightfoot, the greenhouses and hydroponic farming use about 80 percent less water, 90 percent less land and 95 percent less shipping fuel than conventional produce farming.
While BrightFarms isn’t planning to expand to the West Coast anytime soon, the long-term implications of the drought may change Lightfoot’s plans as the hydroponic model uses significantly less water.
BrightFarms launched this model in 2011, and built its first greenhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in 2013. The greenhouse is 56,000 square feet and produces baby leaf lettuces and herbs year-round for McCaffrey’s Market as well as The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, Inc. (A&P).
Brightfarms recently broke ground in Rochelle, Illinois on a greenhouse in partnership with Roundy’s Supermarkets Inc. that will be completed in early 2016. It is expected to produce one million pounds of salad greens, herbs and tomatoes.
Other current retail partners include Giant, Mariano’s Market, Pathmark, Waldbaums, Food Basics, Superfresh and the Food Emporium.
Lightfoot and BrightFarms also advocate for retailers to create entire sections devoted to local produce separate from organic and conventional sections to draw attention to availability and encourage further demand.
Mackenzie Mennucci, Content Specialist & Social Community Manager