- Giant Eagle has added greens and ready-to-eat salads from robotics-focused vertical farming company Fifth Season to more than 75 stores across the Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, metro areas, according to a press release Monday.
- The expansion utilizes Fifth Season's commercial-size vertical farm located in the Pittsburgh area that produces more than 500,000 pounds of produce annually. The grocer previously offered four of Fifth Seasons' selections at ten Market District and Giant Eagle stores in the Pittsburgh area.
- Grocers are stocking more greens from vertical farming operations, which tout year-round availability, better flavor and some eco-friendly benefits. But suppliers have struggled to turn a profit in the energy-intensive business.
Fifth Season, a vertical farm startup incubated at Carnegie Mellon University, has built out its operations as the technology attracts more interest from investors and grocery distributors. It emerged from stealth mode in September 2019 with $35 million in funding.
The company claims its reliance on advanced robotics separates it from other competitors like Bright Farms and Gotham Greens. At Fifth Season’s R&D farms on Pittsburgh’s South Side, approximately 40 robots perform tasks such as storage, retrieval, and pest management. The technology cuts down on labor costs in an industry where profitability can prove elusive, the company said, and reduces the potential introduction of pathogens from human carriers.
For Giant Eagle, which also sources produce from indoor farming operations like Vigeo Growers and Great Lakes Gardens, the partnership increases year-round local supply of greens and offers another opportunity to promote sustainability. Fifth Season's leafy greens require 95% less water and 97% less land than traditional outdoor farming, according to the company. The supplier also plans to phase out single-use plastics from its operations by 2025.
National and regional grocery chains including Albertsons, Ahold Delhaize, Kroger and Meijer have signed significant distribution deals with indoor farming companies. Bright Farms, which operates several large-scale greenhouses in the eastern U.S., supplies to hundreds of stores, including Giant, Food Lion and Walmart. Some grocery outlets, including Whole Foods Market and Kroger-owned QFC, have experimented with in-store miniature farms provided by indoor farming startups or greenhouse operators.
Although indoor farming is growing in popularity with retailers, the business has been difficult for suppliers, which have to contend with high energy and infrastructure costs. Fifth Season claims its use of robotics has helped make it profitable.