It’s tough standing out from the crowd. Especially when “the crowd” is the leafy green produce segment – where hundreds of some of the most innovative growers in North America currently comprise a $9.5 B retail market that is projected to continue growing into the next decade.
Upward Farms (Brooklyn, New York) is one of the segment’s earliest entrants. Founded back in 2013, the aquaponic vertical farm operation “brings together the best of aquaculture and hydroponics” to produce organic microgreens that are currently sold in Whole Foods Markets throughout New York CIty.
Previously known as Edenworks and then Seed & Roe, the company has reportedly raised more than $150 million in total funding to date.
“One of the segments where we feel we can really bring a point of differentiation is in microgreens, where we’ve put together a great value proposition for consumers,” Eric Greifenberger, the operation’s new VP of Marketing and Sales.
That point of differentiation, according to Greifenberger, is threefold: All Upwards Farms produce are always USDA certified organically and locally grown with zero pesticides and washed and ready to eat right out of the package. Most importantly, our microgreens are and flavorful and delicious.
Upward Farms is also hoping to draw awareness to many of the secondary uses for microgreens. It’s not only about salads, Greifenberger suggests.
“We believe our leafy greens and microgreens allow us to create solutions around center of plate meals,” he explains. “We want to showcase all the different ways that microgreens can be used. They’re fantastic as the main focal point of the salad, but they are just as tasty in sandwiches and wraps, or on a pizza. Foodies love adding flavor full, great textured and highly nutritious microgreens to all kinds of meals, and we’re hoping that continues as we introduce this category to a broader base of consumers.”
Changing the Clamshell
Another point of differentiation that Upward Farms readily embraces is a commitment to sustainability in everything the operation does. That includes its packaging. Plastic waste is literally littering the world’s oceans and forests, and food and beverage producers must show consumers they are willing to be a part of the solution.
“Plastics are a huge topic right now around sustainability and social responsibility, and it’s something we’re constantly thinking about as a farm, for sure,” Greifenberger explains, noting Upward Farms’ clamshells are currently made from 1-2 plastic recycled bottles. Still, the group wants to do more in that regard.
“We’re looking at a solution that could cut our annual plastic use by almost 50%,” he adds. “It’s one of those things that, as we move forward with our regional expansion plans, during the next year that’s something we’re looking at: how do we find ways to potentially minimizing plastic, and also accomplish that in a way that allows us to maintain or even improve the freshness of our products.”
A new eater emerges
While one could stereotype Upward Farms’ microgreens and leafy greens offerings as targeting the vegan and vegetarian demographics, there’s a new customer emerging from the shadows and indoor farms the nation over are hoping to feed those eaters, too.
“We’ve noticed this influx of what we refer to as ‘flexitarians’ the core of which is an emphasis on increasing plant-forward eating – which is something that is clearly here to stay – it’s all about making food choices that are better for the planet, and better for your health too,” Greifenberger shares, noting market research has shown a 20% increase in this type of environment-first thinking among consumers over the past three years.
“That’s a trend that we noticed picking up steam a couple years ago, and with the pandemic it’s only accelerated,” he adds.
For 2022, Upward Farms’ growth and management teams have marching orders over the next 12 months: to reimagine packaged salad offerings while reinventing the salad aisle.
“We are looking to redefine that salad aisle and work closely with our retail partners,” the executive says. “It’s about creating exciting solutions shoppers will find appealing, and a sharing a great message in how we produce our leafy greens and provide that benefit bundle: USDA certified organic, locally grown, washed and ready to eat right out of the package. And on the packaging front we’re going to continue to push the envelope and create something with stopping power that communicates the key benefits to the shopper.”
Learn more about Upward Farms here.