From Roof to Store Shelf: Supermarkets Explore Rooftop Food Sourcing
Convincing supermarkets to build hydroponic greenhouses on their roofs might seem like a tough sell, but not for Benjamin Linsley, vice president of Business Development and Public Affairs at BrightFarms, a New York City-based operator of rooftop greenhouses.
Onsite greenhouses, Linsley tells prospective clients, will save them truckloads on their produce by eliminating the high shipping costs that jack up produce prices.
Linsley argues that most vegetables on New York City supermarket shelves are shipped from the West Coast. Take lettuce, for example. About 95 percent of all lettuces sold in the U.S. come from California and Arizona.
By the time they reach New York, “lettuces are nearing the end of their natural shelf life,” said Linsley.
In addition to fresher, better-quality produce at better prices, rooftop greenhouses help supermarkets reduce what’s known as “shrink,” the amount of produce that’s discarded due to spoilage, added Linsley.
Supermarkets — and investors — are buying into the idea of rooftop harvesting. BrightFarms is in discussions with a dozen national supermarket chains, eight of which have signed up for hydroponic greenhouses.
“There’s been phenomenal interest from the supermarket industry,” said Linsley. “They are keen to being first in the market.”
Bright Farms builds and operates the hydroponic greenhouses in exchange for a five to 10-year guaranteed purchase agreement with the supermarkets.
“They give us the roof. We do everything else,” said Linsley.
The greenhouses cost about $2 million to build. They require a rooftop of at least 30,000 square feet to 35,000 square feet, a requirement that’s fairly easy for supermarkets to meet. Most supermarket roofs are approximately 42,000 square feet, equivalent to about an acre.
Investors are enthusiastic about the company’s prospects. In the last six months, BrightFarms has raised $800,000 from angel investors.
“It’s a young fledgling industry,” said Linsley. “The supermarket industry is just beginning to engage in this type of service.”