BrightFarms' Abby Prior and Donald "DJ" Grandmaison Discuss lēf Farms Acquisition
IRVINGTON, NY - When talking about the indoor farming space, it’s incredible to see how much growth has occurred in the last five years alone. Positioning itself for additional expansion in this space is BrightFarms, which made a strategic play in July of this year by acquiring lēf Farms.
I spoke with Abby Prior and Donald “DJ” Grandmaison to learn more.
"BrightFarms is a leading grower of indoor salads,” began Abby, Chief Commercial Officer. “We’ve got farms up and down the East Coast and into the Midwest, and we were planning to build a farm in New England. As we were looking at the New England market, lēf really stood out as a brand and a company, as they had done really remarkable things with only a one-acre farm.”
Unique products and beautiful branding caught BrightFarms’ eye, as well as lēf’s relationships with New England retailers. Bringing its own capital and resources to the lēf team, BrightFarms discovered that both businesses complimented each other nicely.
“From the lēf perspective, we were at a point where we were trying to figure out what our next step was,” shared DJ, who is now BrightFarms’ Northeast Regional Account Executive. He was previously the Sales and Marketing Manager for lēf. “We’d done a really good job establishing the market, and our biggest opportunity was filling orders. And with this partnership, it’s going to allow us to expand our greenhouse and give us resources to execute on a much higher level.”
As the synergy between the two operations builds, both Abby and DJ explained to me that there has been a crucial learning opportunity. The grow systems that BrightFarms uses in its existing commercial-scale farms differ from the system lēf uses.
“lēf uses a moving gutter system, and BrightFarms uses a deep-water culture pond system,” Abby remarked. “When utilized together, these two systems can be optimized for a nice, wide assortment of crops. We now have tools at our disposal to be able to expand our varieties and grow the full assortment of the salad category.”
DJ added that BrightFarms’ national vision has helped propel innovation further.
“From the sales perspective, BrightFarms brings world-class experience and will help us refine our product offering. What we offer now is really unique, but BrightFarms is offering things like spinach and arugula, top-category leaders,” he expressed. “As a whole company, we’re going to take a big giant step forward. I think we will put our brains and resources together and come up with unique solutions to what we’re seeing in the marketplace.”
Some of the challenges that operators face in the leafy greens space, as both Abby and DJ noted, are shortages, transportation costs, and increasing attention on food safety.
“The cost to get greens across the country can be upward of $15,000 a truck,” Abby said. “We’re not immune to inflation or labor challenges, but certainly some of the things that impact West Coast producers we’ve been able to avoid. For our retailers, that has driven demand for product closer to them, and from the East Coast specifically.”
With close distribution centers readily available for retail partners, BrightFarms can deliver to stores in need ASAP.
“Most of the baby greens we harvest are shipped under 24 hours after they’re packed. So, our retail partners get a long shelf-life. They also know the systems we grow in and the rigorous food safety program in place, which is pretty paramount,” DJ observed.
Looking to the future, both Abby and DJ are excited to see how this acquisition will play out.
“In 2022, you’re going to see the beginning of a huge investment in capacity from BrightFarms,” Abby expressed. “We will initiate the building of acreage that will expand our footprint by about 10x. Our acquisition by Cox Enterprises over the summer is enabling us to do that. So, we’re going to double down on our expansion and continue to build on the foundation of our existing farms.”
With so much to look forward to in the indoor farming sector, we can’t wait to see what’s next from BrightFarms.