Indoor Farms Coming to UNFI’s Distribution Centers

Wholesaler partners with Square Roots to co-locate hydroponic growing operations
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Square Roots
UNFI and tech-enabled indoor farming business Square Roots are teaming up to produce greens onsite at the wholesaler's distribution centers.

Locally-sourced greens just got a lot more local for United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI). The wholesaler announced that it is teaming up with Square Roots to add indoor farms at select UNFI distribution centers.

The first onsite farm will be co-located at UNFI’s facility in Prescott, Wis., on the west side of the state near the Mississippi River. Slated to open in 2023, the vertically-integrated hydroponic farm will grow a variety of leafy greens, microgreens and herbs using less water and without the use of pesticides. The farm, serving retail customers in Wisconsin and the nearby Twin Cities in Minnesota, will be managed by Square Roots farmers using the company’s proprietary software. Crops are ready for distribution the same day as they are harvested onsite.  

[Read more: "Gordon Food Service, Square Roots Officially Open New Indoor Farm"]

The addition of Square Roots indoor farms to its facilities will help UNFI reach its supply chain goal of quickly providing fresh produce to stores. Earlier this year, UNFI redesigned its produce sourcing strategy by consolidating purchasing efforts and accelerating the movement of product through its distribution centers.

“Today’s consumer is focused on the quality and freshness of their produce and relies on their local grocer to provide consistent access to high quality, locally grown food, all year round that won’t spoil the day after they bring it home,” explained Dorn Wenninger, UNFI’s SVP of produce. “Our relationship with Square Roots and their innovative indoor farming model not only strengthens our supply chain and gives back days of freshness to consumers, but also furthers our ambitious ESG initiatives and helps UNFI make progress toward our goals to reduce waste, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and advance sustainable agriculture and operations.”

Added Square Roots Co-founder and Executive Chairman Kimbal Musk (Elon Musk's brother): “Whether we’re learning lessons from COVID-19, or considering the future impact of climate change, it’s clear that we need more resilience in our food system. With this partnership we can now bring local food, grown by local farmers, to UNFI’s network of retail customers, and their shoppers, consistently and reliably, all year round. We can’t wait to get started.”

Based in Brooklyn, N.Y., Square Roots was launched by serial entrepreneurs, Musk and Tobias Peggs and provides fresh produce to retailers around the country, including Whole Foods Market, SpartanNash corporate stores, Meijer, Fresh Thyme Market, Busch’s Fresh Food Market, Fresh Direct, Getir and Gordon Food Service Stores, among others.

Providence, R.I.-based UNFI delivers a wide variety of products to customer locations throughout North America, including natural product superstores, independent retailers, conventional supermarket chains, e-commerce retailers and foodservice customers. The largest publicly traded grocery distributor in America, the company is No. 49 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2022 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.

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