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How Publix Is Going Hyper-Local

Gina Acosta, Progressive Grocer
How Publix Is Going Hyper-Local
Customers can observe the hydroponic growth process through a window on the side of the container farm and purchase hydroponic lettuce from Brick Street Farms inside the store.

Publix is bringing new meaning to the words "farm," "fresh," and "local" at a GreenWise store in Lakeland, Florida.

Publix’s GreenWise Market format, which focuses on natural, eco-friendly, local and organic products, has partnered with local hydroponics farmers Brick Street Farms to grow, harvest and pack fresh hydroponic lettuce inside a 40-foot container farm on-site at the Lakeland GreenWise Market.

The farm, which is housed in a freight container outside the store, sits next to a large patio filled with tables, chairs and soft pop music filling the air. Shoppers can have a seat on the patio, eating a freshly mixed and dressed salad that came straight from the hydroponic farm a few tables away. Inside the store, shoppers can also find a variety of packaged Brick Street Farms lettuces grown just a few steps from the produce department.

The hydroponic container farm:

  • Holds the equivalent of 2.5 to 3 acres of traditional farmland.
  • Can grow 365 days a year, regardless of weather conditions.
  • Hydroponic farming subs out soil for mineral-rich water (no dirt means no bugs, no pests, no need for any pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides).
  • Uses 90% less water than traditional farming.
  • Provides a harvest of 720 heads of lettuce each week.
  • Travels mere feet, rather than miles, taking the “carbon” out of the delivery “footprint” 

“We’ve always been committed to sourcing local foods from our local communities whenever possible," said Albert Gottuso, category manager, Publix. "Our innovative hydroponic partnerships enable us to get hyper-local, helping not only our community, but the planet, with the sustainability benefits of this farming technique. Having the Brick Street Farms container farm in our backyard means this lettuce is traveling feet, rather than miles."

Even before the pandemic, many shoppers were clamoring for more local, fresh and traceable foods at retail. FMI’s 2020 "Power of Produce” report found that more than half of consumers want to see a larger assortment of locally grown produce at the supermarket. With the COVID-19 crisis, more consumers have been buying more local foods as the pandemic disrupted national supply chains and caused shortages. 

Earlier this year Publix said it was "deepening collaborations with local hydroponic farmers ... to bring additional options into more stores, as well as more educational opportunities to our customers so they can understand the sustainable benefits of these delicious lettuces." What makes the Publix-Brick Street Farms partnership unique is that while other grocers are exploring ways to bring farming near their stores, most of these are based on contracts between grocers and large-scale/international companies.

Publix says it also has partnerships with Florida-based vertical farm supplier Kalera and South Carolina-based vertical farm supplier Vertical Roots.

Hydroponic farming is a method of growing produce that uses water and nutrients instead of soil. The portability of hydroponic farms also makes it possible to grow food much closer to the “table,” reducing the carbon footprint associated with transportation. 

Last year Kroger announced it was partnering with European urban farming network Infarm. Modular living-produce farms installed in stores will provide customers with hydroponic produce right at the point of purchase. 

Last week BrightFarms said its distribution recently surpassed 2,000 stores, bringing the hydroponic produce provider’s total store count to 2,009. The company has added more than 800 stores this year amid a record surge in demand that has increased year-over-year sales growth by 40% in the past month. The company’s national retail partners include Ahold Delhaize USA, Kroger banner Roundy’s, Walmart and its Sam’s Club division, and Meijer.

Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix, with 1,239 locations in the Southeast, is No. 12 on Progressive Grocer’s 2020 PG 100 list of the top grocers in the United States.

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