Upping the ante in vertically farmed produce, The Kroger Co. plans a major distribution expansion with automated indoor grower 80 Acres Farms.
Cincinnati-based Kroger said Tuesday that greens and vegetables from 80 Acres will become available at approximately 1,000 stores across the Midwest and Southeast, up from more than 300 locations in three states. With the rollout, the supermarket giant noted that it will bring 80 Acres’ fresh produce to new geographies, including Michigan, Tennessee and Georgia in early 2023 and its Mid-Atlantic and Delta divisions in the fall.
In addition, 80 Acres will “soon” expand its offerings at Kroger Co. stores beyond salad blends to include grab-and-go meals, the retailer said.
Kroger initially partnered with 80 Acres in November 2019 in a test that later expanded to 32 stores. Then in mid-March 2021, Kroger rolled out 80 Acres products to 316 Kroger supermarkets in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, as well as online.
“Everyone deserves access to fresh, delicious food,” Dan De La Rosa, group vice president of fresh merchandising at Kroger, said in a statement. “80 Acres’ unique approach and technology enables us to offer fresh, nutritious produce to our customers while advancing sustainable growing practices. Together, we’ll expand the reach of these long-lasting and great-tasting 80 Acres Farms items year-round.”
Hamilton, Ohio-based 80 Acres operates robot-powered production farms in Ohio and Kentucky plus research locations in Arkansas and The Netherlands. The company has said automation and analytics enable it to monitor conditions 24/7 and harvest the produce—including salad blends, herbs and tomatoes—at their peak of freshness and provide 300 times more food than a conventional farm. At the same time, its eco-friendly farming methods use 100% renewable energy, consume 97% less water, and are pesticide- and residue-free.
Plans call for 80 Acres to open another production farm in Georgia, and more locations are upcoming, Kroger reported. The vertical grower’s latest farm, in Florence, Kentucky, got under way in December and is expected to supply roughly 40 million servings of produce annually.
“Retailers have long been attracted to indoor farming because of its potential to supply fresh, healthy and great-tasting produce in a more environmentally sustainable and resilient manner,” according to 80 Acres Farms CEO and co-founder Mike Zelkind. “Kroger recognizes the importance of vertical farming in our nation’s future food supply chain and the value we deliver by offering differentiated products that customers love.”
Others offering 80 Acres Farms greens, herbs, fruit and vegetables include retailers Whole Foods Market, The Fresh Market, Dorothy Lane Markets and Jungle Jim’s Markets as well as foodservice distributors Sysco and US Foods.
Earlier this year, Kroger announced a big expansion with indoor farmer Gotham Greens. That called for Kroger to roll out Gotham Greens produce to almost 1,000 stores by the end of 2023—up from 300-plus stores previously—and extend distribution of Gotham Greens plant-based dips, cooking sauces and dressings to nearly 2,000 stores nationwide. And in late 2019, Kroger unveiled a partnership with Infarm, a Berlin-based urban farming network, that brought modular living produce farms to QFC stores in Washington state. The partnership marked the first deployment of Infarm’s system in the United States.