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    How Grocers are Growing Local Produce Offerings

    Movement feeds on surging appetites for authenticity

    By Jennifer Strailey

    Trust has become the hottest trend in food today, and with it, demand for locally grown produce has skyrocketed. As consumers increasingly want to know where their fruits and vegetables come from, they’re seeking sustainable sources closer to home.

    Local food sales totaled about $12 billion in 2014, up from just $5 billion in 2008, according to the USDA, which predicts the market value for locally produced food could hit $20 billion by 2019.

    Suppliers across the country are offering everything from potatoes to kale as local, where possible, while retailers are promoting the connection between food and the farm in-store.

    While the challenges of supplying the nation with locally grown produce, particularly in the dead of winter, are obvious, they don’t sway consumer demand. Shoppers still want local in February. In response, a growing number of produce companies are expanding their greenhouse operations to provide fresh local produce year-round.

    In particular, leafy greens, herbs, microgreens and tomatoes lend themselves to greenhouse cultivation.

    Local Leaves

    BrightFarms is on a mission to become the first national brand of local produce. It designs, finances, builds and operates hydroponic greenhouse farms near a growing number of supermarkets, to provide consumers with locally grown produce year-round, while reducing the environmental impact of growing fruits and vegetables.

    “Our experience shows that consumers want to trust their food, and to know where their food comes from. And they want food that is fresher, tastier and more nutritious,” asserts CEO Paul Lightfoot of New York-based BrightFarms. “Local greenhouse produce does this for consumers on a year-round basis, and the demand for locally grown in a greenhouse appears to be just as strong as demand for locally grown in fields.”

    Last November, BrightFarms received $13.65 million in Series B-1 financing, led by WP Global Partners, NGEN Partners, Emil Capital Partners and several other investors. “This financing bolsters BrightFarms’ leadership position in the local-produce movement,” says Lightfoot. Currently, the company has about 350,000 square feet of greenhouse farms housed in three commercial-scale facilities in operation or development, including a greenhouse farm in Bucks County, Pa. (operating since early 2013); a greenhouse farm in northern Virginia (recently opened); and a greenhouse farm under construction in Chicago.

    The nearly 150,000-square-foot Chicago facility will provide more than 1 million pounds of fresh local produce per year to Kroger’s newly acquired Roundy’s stores, while the 150,000-square-foot Virginia greenhouse will provide Ahold’s Giant Food stores with nearly 1 million pounds of fresh local produce annually. The 50,000-square-foot Pennsylvania facility supplies McCaffrey’s Food Markets, a grocer with four locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as well as Kings, Balducci’s, Acme and Best Markets.

    BrightFarms grows baby greens, including spring mix, baby arugula, baby kale and baby spinach, in addition to basil and tomatoes.

    “We only compete in categories where we can replace a long-distance and complex supply chain with a shorter and simpler supply chain that is better for the product, better for the environment and profitable,” notes Lightfoot.


    By Jennifer Strailey
    • About Jennifer Strailey Progressive Grocer's contributing editor covering the produce industry, Jennifer Strailey has been writing about food and beverages for business-to-business publications for more than 15 years. She has been writing for PG since 2010.

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