New Canadian agtech company Local Leaf Farms officially opened its first vertical farming facility today, establishing itself as a company ready to transform Canada's food industry. Using vertical farming technology, Local Leaf produces hyper-local produce that's fresher, more sustainable and fully traceable - directly addressing many of the challenges of food production highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Alongside the launch, Local Leaf also released the findings of a study conducted by IPSOS that confirmed the ways in which COVID-19 has impacted the way Canadians are making decisions about food: according to the survey, 68% of Canadians say the pandemic has made food safety more important to them and 47% say locally produced food is today their top purchase driver.
"Canadian consumers are demanding greater transparency about the food they eat. And that demand has never been more urgent," said Steve Jones , President and CEO of Local Leaf Farms. "As we begin to consider a post-COVID reality, we need to have real discussions about the stability - and overall future - of food production in this country. Local Leaf is bringing leading-edge technology to the food sector to produce the fresh, safe and sustainable produce that Canadians are asking for."
Today, the average package of leafy greens in Canadian grocery stores travels 3,000 km before it lands in a shopper's cart. This journey can take up to two weeks, and can cause produce to lose up to 70% of its nutritional value - not to mention the impact on its taste, texture and flavour. Local Leaf Farms' technology allows the company to reimagine the journey food takes from the farm to the store. All Local Leaf Farms produce can be at local grocery stores just hours after it was harvested, not only because of proximity, but because, unlike any other produce sold in Canada , it can be 'drop shipped': delivered directly, without the need to pass through distribution centres, maximizing freshness and shelf life.
Local Leaf also offers a fully traceable food source, with instant access to information about the food from seed to shelf. The company's proprietary technology and mobile app allow retailers and consumers to know exactly where their produce comes from, including detailed information on how it was grown, when and by whom. The farm, which includes an 20,000 square foot community garden, is even open to the public once a month, allowing people to see and connect with their food. Of particular importance in our current reality, vertical farms like Local Leaf eliminate the need to rely on migrant labour - a workforce that has faced a severe threat in the face of COVID-19.
A growing number of Canadian investors and stakeholders are recognizing the need for Canada to rebuild its capacity to produce goods through stronger innovation - and are looking to the vertical farming industry as a viable solution. Federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, Navdeep Bains, is a vocal supporter of Local Leaf Farms' mission. "It is vitally important that all Canadians have access to healthy, sustainable food," said Minister Bains. "Local Leaf Farms is taking an innovative approach to this challenge by using the latest in agricultural and digital supply chain technologies, and data-driven decision making, to produce a reliable domestic supply of nutritious food, with a smaller environmental footprint."
The IPSOS research also identified the following key insights about changing consumer perceptions:
- Nearly all Canadians (96%) prefer to buy produce grown in Canada, whether in their local community (21%), their province (41%), or elsewhere in the country (34%).
- There is a widespread belief (68%) that eliminating plastic from food packaging is important, and a stated preference (51%) for non-plastic, compostable, plant-based material. By contrast, just 21% would prefer produce to come packaged in recycled plastic, sometimes referred to as recycled PET.
- Food safety matters: 88% of Canadians consider food safety important to their purchase decision when buying leafy greens and produce.
- The top food safety concerts are hygiene-based: almost 1 in 2 Canadians are concerned about product handling safety standards and 1 in 4 called out the cleanliness of the growing environment.
Local Leaf's Barrie location services grocery stores, food service providers and home meal kit providers within 50km of the farm. All of the produce, which is sold under the My Local Leaf brand, is pesticide- and herbicide-free, non-GMO and packaged in 100% plastic-free compostable packaging. The company is on track to open its next location in Kingston in the coming months - and has a scale goal to launch 20 locations across the country by the end of 2025.