There are several plastic clamshells sitting in front of me on a conference room table — around 20 or so boxes, labels facing forward, with a plate of turnips and a tub of those R&D strawberries we saw back in part two.
It’s a nice photo opportunity, backdropped by Bowery Farming’s impressive grow system and a good visual representation of the product’s life cycle. More importantly, it’s a reminder of how most people will ultimately interact with the company.
My position at TechCrunch afforded me the grand tour, of course — the whole Willy Wonka, clean suit coveralls and taste-testing experience. In the company’s FAQ, the answer to “Can I visit a Bowery Farm?” is a simple, “At this time, we do not allow visitors to our farms.”
It’s understandable, of course. While the farms themselves are a great visual, there are too many resources and health precautions required to worry about giving tours to outsiders. On my own visit, my guides were extremely cautious about what could and couldn’t be photographed — trade secrets and all.
Given the novelty of vertical farming, and that some stigma still exists against the taste of indoor-grown produce, Bowery’s branding strategy largely revolves around blending in.
Press coverage, like this feature you’re currently reading, is part of the outreach. The company opens itself to journalists and the occasional video camera knowing that putting its farms on visual display is a powerful way to unlock the fascinating story of vertical farming.
Ahead of my own visit, I watched a broad range of videos featuring vertical farms from all over the world. My playlist featured everything from Nordic Harvest’s newly opened 75,000-square-foot facility in Copenhagen, to the modular urban farming setups Brooklyn-based Square Roots creates inside a shipping container you can purchase for just $80,000.
The size, the scope, the potential impact — the mind reels. Vertical farming may be a nascent space, but it is growing rapidly, and the greenfield is being taken quickly.
Most consumers will never interact with a Bowery farm beyond reading an article or watching a clip online, and there’s nothing particularly wrong about that. The truth is that urbanites will almost never set foot in the place where our food is grown — that there’s a connection at all is a kind of win in and of itself.
Ultimately though, building that individual connection with consumers will determine the fate of Bowery in the ultra-competitive produce market. Branding is a high priority for the firm, particularly as it battles competitors like AeroFarms, which recently announced that it will go public via SPAC before failing to secure investor approval.
In this fourth and final part of the TC-1, I’ll look at how the company is trying to invent brand loyalty in the produce section, figure out its packaging, design its supply chain and, finally, seek a path to profitability against a broad competitive landscape.
Lettuce have a taste
Bowery sees opportunity in the boutique clamshells that have begun propagating across produce shelves in recent years — first in upscale markets and then more mainstream grocery stores.