Pod to shelf

Last week Ocado announced that it will be making a push into vertical farming by taking a majority shareholding in Jones Foods. Vertical farming using stacks of hydroponics has been trailed for some time, but there has been considerable scepticism over its viability as more than a niche solution. Agricultural land is still very cheap relative to other land uses, and so the equation here is one of yield density and proximity to market. Obviously planting upwards creates density, but the associated cost also acts as an often-unreachable viability hurdle. Distance to market place might be a different matter. Ocado plans to develop farms either in or next to its existing distribution centres in a bid to create a competitive advantage around ‘freshness and sustainability’. This includes its proposed small format ‘Zoom’ centres which offer one-hour delivery. Many years ago, I worked for Birds Eye peas who promised ‘pod to frozen’ in 2.5 hours. Through collocating agriculture and distribution this might start to look very slow.