Tell us about working with Kroger.
Hader: We’d had conversations with them for a long time. When we started, we were selling to independent retailers primarily, such as Whole Foods, Mustard Seed Markets and Dorothy Lane Market. With the number of the farms we had at the time, we didn’t really have the output to support very many Kroger stores. We’ve built eight farms in the past five years. This newest farm is one that could actually support the volume at Kroger. We started with one, then it went to 10, then 30 and then 300 farms.
We have a 70,000-square-foot barn that can grow 10 million servings a year. Since it’s inside, we can plant and replant about 12 to 13 times a year.
What kind of automation do you use?
Hader: At first, we were placing seeds by hand. Now we do it with automation. When the baby plants come out, we move them farther apart so they have room to grow. That’s also done with automation. We have sensors and cameras that monitor every stage of growth — from the water, the nutrients, the lighting, the temperature and the humidity. We have a team of data scientists that take all of the information and figure out if there’s a problem or a way to make things more efficient. We’re doing additional monitoring on plant health, adding more data points to understand root size and development.
How are consumers and retailers responding?
Hader: We don’t have the usual supply chain disruptions. Our product is much fresher and lasts a lot longer because it gets to the customer much quicker. So you can put these farms pretty much anywhere in the world. If you're on an island or in Antarctica, then you can build these and still have the same execution. The product still comes out as if it were 78 degrees and sunny.
What are some of the advantages of being located in Cincinnati?
Hader: If you think about it, 71% of our lettuce is grown in California. That is 2,000 miles away, whereas 80 Acres Farms is just a couple of hours from our farthest destination.
The other thing is that the Midwest has a lot of talent. It’s also a great place to bring people from other places. We choose to be here. It takes different types of people to run this farm. We have a lot of data scientists and traditional farmers (who have changed careers). You can’t get that just anywhere. This is a new industry, so people don’t necessary go to school to learn it. So it takes people who can think outside the box and can push the limits on what could be. One of our company mottos is that our business takes people who are willing to fail fast with tremendous insights.