After harvesting their first batch of crops in the new Milan-based production facility, Planet Farms has reached another major milestone. “It’s a combination of several years of R&D in agronomy and automation, that led to our unique process of full automation from seeding to pack, including harvesting,'' says Daniele Benatoff, co-founder and co-CEO of Planet Farms. “The reality is that the product outcome is spectacular. Our products are so consistently fresh and delicious that one quickly stops to marvel when tasting them and quickly becomes used to this new normal, and that’s what we want to achieve,” Daniele says.
“The vertical farming concept is by no means new, but we believe that our CEA interpretation of it truly harnesses the idea behind it. We’re making vertical farming technology scalable and affordable, with Italian quality at its core. We are aiming to provide a tangible and sustainable answer to the currently challenged agricultural paradigm.” According to Daniele, many farmers are producing what they can, where they can and when they can. That has been the case ever since ancient history.
“However, the location has changed as the bulk of consumers are now in densely populated urban areas, while food demand continues to grow and the consumption pattern. “The majority of people live in cities, where there’s a very concentrated demand. People want a global food selection, all year round without being bound to seasonality or locality,” he adds, “but without compromising on freshness and sustainability”.
Co-founders Luca Travaglini and Daniele Benatoff
Many technology suppliers start with a minimal viable product. “In vertical farming that’s really hard to adopt as a concept. If your product doesn’t taste great, consumers might not try it again and that part is difficult to fix,” Daniele affirms. He says that vertical farming is complex given the many inputs used. Then there’s also the biological aspect; the seed. “That’s why we start at the source with seeds selection, and not at the end, knowing that the ending must be a foregone conclusion, our product needs to be amazing, as my co-founder Luca Travaglini always says”
Planet Farms has a clear vision of providing a new solution, one that bridges the gap between what customers want, fresh, tasty, local and sustainable food, and what mother nature can provide. Daniele wants to prove that Planet Farms provides a differentiated and tangible answer that should become the new standard for the industry, with quality, automation, cleanroom environments and efficiency as its pillars.
“Quality management is part of our Italian heritage”, says Daniele, “as we know what great food tastes like. We acknowledge the challenges, but we also know how to address them without compromising and how to deliver to consumers what they want and deserve.” At Planet Farms everything begins with the product, while the technology enables the production to be efficient with its use of resources and deliver an incredible product in a sustainable fashion, year-round.
Planet Farms’ key production elements are complete control of the process, efficiency and quality. Starting from these simple but unwavering principles, the company’s technology ended up being different compared to others. Planet Farms built its production systems from scratch, including a greenfield purpose-built structure to house the process, creating inside processes that “replicate what mother nature has been doing incredibly well for thousands of years”, according to Daniele.
In terms of quality, the company has taken an uncompromising approach that begins with full certainty of purity thanks to the entire process happening in cleanroom environments and ends with a fully automated design that allows greater control on the inputs. Implementing full automation allows Planet Farms to eliminate potential causes of harm or threats to the product, and most importantly, any human touch. “The final consumer is the first person to ever touch our products when they open the bag,” Daniele adds.
“We have to optimize production.” Some industries are structurally forced to accept trade-offs in their quest. However, in the food production space that’s not the case, according to Daniele. “You can have great food that’s good for you and for the environment, regardless of your location or season, because technology can enable it today. Consumers are no longer forced to compromise on their choices, getting a high-quality product that is fresh, pure, nutritious and ready-to-eat, without depleting the world of its natural resources.
Introducing a new product dimension
Planet Farms was created three years ago on the back of several years of R&D with the aim to supply a new kind of fresh produce to the market. Daniele explains that Planet Farms was lucky to have the right people around the table at the right time. “We want to rediscover taste by consuming less and delivering better quality. Therefore, we are delivering a fresher product that is delicious and fresher, which means that there will be little to no waste in the entire supply chain” Daniele notes. Over time, 90 varieties have been produced in Planet Farms’ R&D lab. As a result of thorough research, the company is introducing in June its first five products on the market, with lots more coming later this year.
About 1.5 years ago the company kicked off the construction of its large-scale growing facility, which is 10.000 square meters of purpose-built and cutting-edge automation, software and sensors. True to its DNA of always looking into the future, Luca and Daniele spend most of their time laying the groundwork for the next steps of growth for Planet Farms that will see even larger facilities in Italy and in the rest of Europe delivering their unique brand of fresh Italian produce 365 days a year.
The production facility in Milan
The company decided to focus on communicating their works, starting with the logo and colors. “It was really fun to look at one phrase with different visions and emotions. ‘Go vertical’ was the one that really felt right. These two simple words encompass everything that Planet Farms stand for, it represents a new way, a change in perspective, as in looking up and finding inspiration for a way to do things in a slightly different way.” In terms of packaging, the company tackles sustainability in a way that will be easily recognizable and coherent with everything that Planet Farms stands for: using bright colors, clear messaging and an innovative and sustainable pack made of responsibly sourced paper.
Planet Farms’ products are sold under their own brand. In this way, the company is hoping to communicate to consumers the unique characteristics of its products. “The agricultural sector is one of the biggest in the world in terms of revenues and resource use. We are currently focusing on a small part of this universe, but our technology and approach is capable of having a tangible and material impact on the entire complex.” The company currently focuses on Europe, but its expansion plans are ambitious and backed by a large and talented team and a committed and supportive shareholder base. Both are ever-growing, like Planet Farms’ vision and ambitions and its cherished plants.