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SoftBank Leads $140 Million Funding for Vertical Farming Startup Plenty

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 10/14/2020 Sarah McBride
a pile of fruit: Strawberries sit in a box. © Bloomberg Strawberries sit in a box.

(Bloomberg) -- Vertical-farm company Plenty Unlimited Inc. said it has raised $140 million in fresh financing led by existing backer SoftBank Group Corp. along with new investor Driscoll’s Inc. The cash and collaboration with berry specialists Driscoll’s will help it advance into new products such as strawberries.

The addition of a strategic investor alongside SoftBank’s Vision Fund helps enhance Plenty’s credibility with grocery stores. For Driscoll’s, it provides a window into how robots can assist in farming. Plenty’s offerings — kale and other greens for now — are grown in warehouses without the touch of human hands, using highly calibrated lighting, fertilizing and watering techniques.

“We have an interest in understanding how robotics can assist in the harvest of our crops,” said Scott Komar, Driscoll’s senior vice president for research and development. “It’s a very tricky problem to solve. This fruit is so delicate.” On Monday, Driscoll’s and Plenty said they agreed to grow strawberries together.

Down the line, the partnership could allow the two companies to sell produce all year round in regions that are difficult to reach currently, such as parts of Asia. In a controlled indoor environment, the vagaries of weather don’t affect the crops or the workers who tend them.

Plenty also plans to open a new indoor farm in Compton, a city in Los Angeles County, next year, which will allow it to expand its markets and introduce new types of greens, though the company isn’t yet disclosing which varieties.

“Other than delicious and yummy, that’s all we have to say,” said Plenty Chief Executive Officer Matt Barnard, who added he eats some sort of Plenty product every day. The new farm had originally been slated to open this year, but the coronavirus pandemic pushed back those plans. Next week, Plenty will start listing jobs in the Compton facility, Barnard said.

Vertical farming has become a hot target for venture dollars as investors study trends that show rising food demand in coming years combined with more erratic climate conditions.

The new raise brings Plenty’s total funding to more than $500 million. Driscoll’s will take a board observer seat at Plenty.

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