Sustainability, hydroponics, food waste reduction and energy efficiency still reign supreme in the world of cold food and beverage processing. And, it’s not just the farmers and ranchers digging in the dirt to improve the future of the environment.

From sustainable greenhouse farms and recycling pilot programs to power purchase agreements and reusable packaging, it takes a village, and this village of farmers, processors, technology manufacturers and supply chain providers are transforming the future of farming.

Farming in different forms

The aquaponics market is anticipated to increase at a rigorous 7.4% CAGR by produce type during the 2018-2028 period, according to analysis by Persistence Market Research, New York.

Meanwhile, the vertical farming market is expected to reach $13 billion by 2024, according to a new research report by Global Market Insights, Inc., Selbyville, Del.

That’s why many of today’s processors are in position to help transform the future of farming.

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For example, BrightFarms, New York, announced plans to build a new hydroponic greenhouse in Penn Township, Pa. The new, 250,000-square-foot greenhouse will utilize hydroponics to grow greens and herbs without soil. BrightFarms also announced plans to build new sustainable greenhouse farms in Central Mass., Hudson Valley, N.Y., and North Carolina.

Living Greens Farm, Faribault, Minn., opened a third grow room to its now 60,000-square-foot farming operation, what is said to be the largest vertical plane aeroponic farm in the world.

Yara International, Norway, partnered with IBM, North Castle, N.Y., to build what is dubbed to be the world’s leading digital farming platform, providing holistic digital services and instant agronomic advice.

Silo, a San Francisco-based technology-driven marketplace, announced a seed round of $3 million in capital to replace traditional systems with efficient, real-time technology to reduce waste, such as loss of products and product rejections and manual processes around data entry, sales and logistics, resulting in a more sustainable and profitable supply chain.

For more on these and other hydroponic farming solutions, check out the “Plants of the Future” cover story in Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ May 2019 issue.

Sustainability still sells

Sustainability still sells, as more than 50% of CPG market growth is from sustainability-marketed products, according to a report published by IRI, Chicago, and NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business, New York. Across all categories, sustainability-marketed products delivered $113.9 billion in sales and accounted for 16.6% share of market in 2018. In fact, products marketed as sustainable grew 5.6 times faster than conventionally-marketed products, and 3.3 times faster than the CPG market.

Even foodservice outlets are weighing in on the sustainability movement.

For instance, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Newport Beach, Calif., announced a goal of diverting 50% of its restaurant waste from landfills by 2020, and starting a pilot program that turns plastic gloves into trash bags.

Global RIFF (Revolution in Food Fund), San Francisco, is a new breed of FoodTech venture capital fund looking to transform an unsustainable and unhealthy food system. Comprised of leading food executives supported by an investment analytics platform to help discover, select, invest and develop food start-ups and founders with business models in sustainability and scalability, Global RIFF will deploy proprietary technology combined with human intelligence to evaluate more than 1,500 early-stage food start-ups.

wind energy

Going green one energy efficient initiative at a time

Thirty-one companies revealed how much plastic packaging they create as part of a drive for transparency by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, UK. And, all 107 CPG, retail and packaging producing signatories are committed to making 100% of their plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment unites businesses, governments and other organizations behind a common vision and targets to address plastic waste and pollution at its source.

Hormel Foods Corp., Austin, Minn., and IGS Solar, Dublin, Ohio, began construction on a solar energy project at the Hormel Foods Swiss American Sausage Co. facility in Lathrop, Calif. This new solar array will offset an estimated 869 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year that would otherwise be emitted by a conventional fossil fuel power plant.

General Mills, Minneapolis, signed a virtual 15-year power purchase agreement with Roaring Fork Wind, LLC for 200 megawatts of its Maverick Creek wind project located in central Texas. This wind project will produce renewable energy credits for General Mills that, together with the company’s previous wind power agreement, are calculated to equal 100% of the electricity used annually at the company’s owned domestic facilities.

General Mills also invested more than $4 million in soil health initiatives on U.S. agricultural lands, made a commitment to sustainably source 100% of the company’s 10 priority ingredients and decreased its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) footprint by 13% compared to 2010 results.

Furthermore, General Mills joined nine other private-sector companies and non-profit organizations, including Cargill, Wichita, Kan.; McDonald’s USA, Oak Brook, Ill.; and Mars to form the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC) to promote land stewardship and build healthy soils, soil carbon sequestration and water conservation on the globe’s working lands.

Smithfield Foods, Inc., Smithfield, Va., and Roeslein Alternative Energy, St. Louis, Mo., formed a joint venture called Monarch Bioenergy to produce renewable natural gas (RNG) across Smithfield’s hog farms in Missouri. This partnership converts manure collected from Smithfield farms into RNG, while simultaneously delivering ecological services and developing wildlife habitat.

Through a combination of solar, wind, fuel cells and cogeneration, Taylor Farms, Salinas, Calif., reduced 12,190 metric tons of CO2 emissions over the course of the year, a 94% increase from 2017, which is equivalent to the GHG emissions from 2,588 vehicles driven for one year.

Bonduelle Fresh Americas, an Irwindale, Calif.-based subsidiary of Bonduelle, France, initiated a plan with its growers to ensure the safety of its leafy greens supply through the 2019 California growing season, effective May 1.

Matthew Wadiak, founder and former COO of Blue Apron, New York, created Cooks Venture to build a better food system with a superior supply chain, and sequester 1% more carbon in the soil on agricultural lands to reverse climate change.

For its part, The Star Group of Cos., Canada, is reducing plastic throughout the supply chain by lessening the gage of plastic in packaging, resulting in up to 11% reduction per punnet, composting all organic waste and implementing a top-seal on multiple products, resulting in 30% reduction in plastic per container, among other efforts.

And, Nestlé S.A., Switzerland, announced that 77% of its agricultural commodities are verified as deforestation-free thanks to a combination of tools, including certification, supply chain mapping, on-the-ground verification and satellite imagery.

On the supermarket side, ALDI U.S., Batavia, Ill., announced a commitment to making 100% of its packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Natural Grocers, Denver, Colo., eliminated more than 300 million single-use plastic bags across all 152 stores.

Target Corp., Minneapolis, announced goals to reduce its carbon footprint company-wide, including reducing 96% of GHG emissions by unifying its suppliers, the raw materials used to create products and the manufacturing and transporting processes.

Trader Joe’s, Monrovia, Calif., announced plans to revamp its packaging to become more sustainable, by sourcing renewable and recycled packaging materials, choosing packaging that can be realistically recycled and avoiding the use of harmful substances in packaging, among other efforts.

How food loss doesn’t get wasted

About one-third of all food produced – approximately 1.3 billion metric tons — gets lost or wasted, while 795 million people go hungry, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Italy.

And, products from the food waste market will observe a CAGR of 5% by 2029, according to research presented by Future Market Insights, Valley Cottage, N.Y. This means that cosmetic flaws and other unattainable features are now considered key growth opportunities in the produce sector.

Likewise, the influx of robotics, smart sensors and other advanced technologies are helping farmers plan, predict and produce more product that doesn’t go to waste.

Robotics, for instance, provides more visibility into one’s value chain. There is also new demand for robotics as a service, including self-driving tractors, robotic gripping systems and autonomous pickers. And, by 2024, agricultural robots (agbots) are forecast to navigate the farm to an estimated $5.7 billion industry, five times the market size in 2016, according to

Meanwhile, remote sensing techniques such as in-field sensors, drones and satellite imagery allow farmers to view their crops from multiple perspectives, providing farmers up-to-date information in real-time.

Machine learning and advanced analytics mine data for seed planting, crop production, best-of-breed locations, crop insurance, logistics and commodity markets.

Even blockchain is making an appearance in the agriculture industry, providing traceability, food safety and logistics measurements to help companies protect their farm-to-fork cold chain.  

See the charts here!