The COVID-19 has a huge impact on many industries due to the measures taken in regards to labor and food safety. Also vertical farming has been hit by the virus as many farms deliver their fresh produce to the hospitality service. Now most restaurants are closed, they have to come up with solutions for their produce. We reached out to vertical farms worldwide to see what measures they have taken to battle the COVID-19.
What to do with the produce?
"Many have seen complete closures resulting in no orders, so they are targeting home delivery and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Such as Facebook posts in neighborhood groups e.g., letting their neighbors know they have fresh, living microgreens for sale", says Larry Hountz with City Hydro Systems, growing microgreens in Baltimore City. "This will more than likely continue after we get back to open restaurants and folks eating out being a new revenue stream for them."
Larry and Zhanna Hountz with City Hydro Farm showing their fresh produce
Also Ard van de Kreeke with Growx in Amsterdam, Netherlands, says the orders have shut down completely. "The growing period of most of these products is 4 or 5 weeks, so if I have to deliver in 4 weeks I have to sow the cresses now. I can’t just stop producing. For the next three weeks, we will have to toss everything that comes out of our greenhouse, out. Now we try to harvest everything and have our customers make oils and things like that. We just try to give everything away and make people happy with the products."
An employee harvesting fresh lettuce at Growx
Direct selling to customers
In Taiwan the team with YesHealth Taiwan is building a salad brand to influence consumers to eat salad more often. "The percentage of selling directly to consumer is around 35% now", says Stella Tsai with YesHealth Taiwan. “YesHealth in Taiwan has three main selling channels. The first is wholesale, the second is directly to the end-consumer, and the third is to hotels and restaurants. Out of these, the two first are the most important. The COVID-19 has caused 30% decrease for the hotels and restaurants because of the lack of customers in Horeca. But sales towards wholesale and the end-consumers through our online shop have increased more than 40% at the same time. That is because people want to buy vegetables and cook at home,” Tsai mentions.
Grahame Dunling with Uns Farms, a large-scale vertical farm inside a warehouse complex, located in the United Arab Emirates says: “As our distributors handle sales in both horeca and retail, while we take care of the growing. Therefore, we are diversified and not too dependent on any one market segment, as are our distributors.”
Jesper Hansen director at YesHealth Group checking the produce
Other outlets possible?
As most of the restaurants are closed most of the options seem to be out of reach. Tsai comments, “With many restaurants closed, we had to consider alternatives. Luckily, we already process some of our harvest into supplement products. For instance, we have made our green kale into probiotic powder, which is good for stomach health”.
"The support I have seen locally to the hospitality industry has been amazing folks ordering delivery or take away, GoFundMe pages etc. We are all in this together and we will make it," Hountz adds.
What to do now?
Dunling continues, "We were built with the vision to address the masses, and to help the UAE fight its dependence on imports and build food security. All we can do now is continue to provide our fresh salads, as indoor growing allows us to be relatively safe from outside elements".
The vertical farm of Uns City Farm
Hydro City Farm still has plenty of supplies but there are slight concerns, as their Chinese light manufacturer is still closed. “They are on lockdown - one person is allowed to leave the house every 3-4 days for food and other items, and it has been like this since December. Unless this is a seasonal virus and the warm temperatures kill it off we are going to be in this boat for a while," Hountz remarked.
Ard van de Kreeke, Owner