Pick n Pay ups fresh produce offering with first in-store vertical farms

Fresh produce grown this way is said to last three times longer.
Pick n Pay has launched South Africa's first in-store vertical farms in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Image: Supplied

Customers walking into Pick n Pay on Nicol in Sandton and Pick n Pay Constantia in Cape Town can now expect to see a display of growing fresh produce, as the JSE-listed retailer has chosen these two stores to begin the rollout of its vertical farms project.

Pick n Pay says customers can expect to see various lettuce plants and herbs growing from seeds in the vertical farm.  

Read: Vertical farming’s success depends on the cheapest lightbulb

The retailer points out that as a sustainable and low carbon farming method – reportedly using 95% less water, 85% less fertiliser and eliminating the use of pesticides – the attractive display should appeal to its environmentally-minded customers.

It also hopes to expose more young people to farming through the initiative. 

Understanding the provenance of our food is really important, and having the opportunity to share this environmentally friendly way of delivering delicious, safe and sustainable produce with our customers, while they shop, is a huge opportunity,” says Pick n Pay’s head of produce and horticulture Liz van Niekerk.

CAN-Agri partnership

Although customers will not be able to pick produce directly from the in-store vertical farms, Pick n Pay’s partner CAN-Agri – a vertical, hydroponic, greenhouse farm in Pretoria that has been supplying the retailer with produce for over three years – will supply customers with pre-packed punnets from its farm.

The in-store vertical farm, which will have 10 different plants growing in eight vertical stacks, is a smaller version of CAN-Agri’s commercial facility which holds 24 rows with 200 stacks of growing produce that span six meters in height.

CAN-Agri has 3 200m2 of growing area that has the potential to grow 384 000 plants.

“We’ve harnessed innovative technologies to produce food more responsibly and efficiently, to meet the challenges and demands of years to come,” says CAN-Agri CEO Francios van der Merwe.

“The growing stacks are strategically spaced in rows to allow for maximum sunlight. Purified, oxygenated, nutrient-rich water is fed through the top of the grow tubes, it then gravitates down through the tubes flowing over the roots of the plants and is recycled in a continuous closed-loop system,” he adds.

Improving produce quality

According to Pick n Pay, the United Nations has found that global food supply will need to increase by 50% come 2050 in order to keep up with estimated demand for a growing world population. The retailer says this urban farming method will contribute towards achieving that goal. 

CAN-Agri says the sustainable farming method not only produces a consistent product for customers, but it also trebles the product’s shelf life.

“Our produce is free of soil or insects so we don’t wash the produce. The normal washing process bruises and damages the produce, shortening its shelf-life.”

“The controlled growing environment delivers a consistent product and means we only harvest what is ordered. Our technology also helps us do many short growing cycles (three weeks) without any negative effect on our production output,” van der Merwe adds.

Customers who purchase the produce will also get the benefit of tracking the growth of their products from “seed to table”, learning where their produce was grown, the nutrients it received, harvesting and packaging time and when it was supplied to the store.

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