Providence, Rhode Island-based distributor United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) is bringing indoor farming to its distribution centers, the company said Thursday.
The wholesaler teamed up with Square Roots, a vertical farming company co-founded by Kimbal Musk, Twitter owner Elon Musk’s brother,to add Square Roots' indoor farms on-site at select UNFI distribution centers.
“Whether we’re learning lessons from COVID-19, or considering the future impact of climate change, it’s clear that we need more resilience in our food system,” said Square Roots co-founder and Executive Chairman Kimbal Musk, in a statement. “With this partnership we can now bring local food, grown by local farmers, to UNFI’s network of retail customers and their shoppers, consistently and reliably, all year round. We can’t wait to get started.”
The first Square Roots farm, approximately 20,000 square feet in size, is planned for UNFI’s Prescott, Wisconsin, facility and is scheduled to open in 2023, UNFI said in a statement. The produce from this location is intended to serve UNFI's retail customers in Wisconsin and Minnesota, including the Twin Cities metro area.
“Our unique approach to indoor farming is fully optimized to support forward-thinking, large-scale distribution partners like UNFI,” said Square Roots co-founder and CEO Tobias Peggs, in a statement. “Growing delicious fresh produce in Square Roots farms at UNFI facilities increases supply chain resilience and reduces miles driven transporting food. It’s good business, and it’s also better for people and the planet.”
As part of its Better For All initiative, UNFI said it is looking to build closer relationships with its produce suppliers to create an efficient, expansive, high-quality supply chain network designed to shorten the time it takes to deliver produce to retail customers.
“Today’s consumer is focused on the quality and freshness of their produce and relies on their local grocer to provide consistent access to high quality, locally grown food, all year round that won’t spoil the day after they bring it home,” said Dorn Wenninger, SVP of produce at UNFI. “Our relationship with Square Roots and their innovative indoor farming model not only strengthens our supply chain and gives back days of freshness to consumers, but also furthers our ambitious ESG initiatives and helps UNFI make progress toward our goals to reduce waste, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and advance sustainable agriculture and operations.”
Wholesaler UNFI serves about 30,000 independent grocers.