Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) remains a very controversial and high-profile space. As one of the largest investment categories in AgriFoodTech, vertical farming and greenhouse startups have received over $7 billion in venture investment the past five years.
Companies like Plenty, Bowery and AeroFarms have received large investments in part because of the media’s over-hype of the entire space. Vertical farming, in particular, has been seen as a game changer for food production and positioned as a fully buzzword-compliant Farming 2.0 offering that meets all of the modern consumer’s requirements around sustainability, locally grown, traceability, and organic (or at least organic-equivalent) production.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the finish line after investors wrote all those checks. It turns out that vertical farming is not all green fields and unicorns – in fact, it turns out that almost all vertical farming products end up competing on the way to the customer with a lot of Western Growers members that have worked hard to optimize supply chains and relationships with the person buying food in stores and restaurants.
The lack of a clear go-to market strategy around products that taste great, are priced right, and are something consumers want to put in their shopping cart or on their plate is hurting a lot of well-funded vertical farms – and that should not be a surprise. There will be a few winners in vertical farming and green house operations, but there’s going to be a lot of bad investment outcomes as well.
All the investors and founders who didn’t understand the competitive dynamic of the food space now have a huge clean up on Aisle 10 (and 11 … and 12).
To read more from WG’s VP of Innovation Walt Duflock, visit his blog.