Jul 21, 2022
This B-Corp Is Making Sustainability A Priority For Chefs, Restaurants, & Food Groups
Agritecture’s Director of Business Development, Jeffrey Landau, interviewed Chris Davies, the CEO & Founder of Harvest London
Harvest London, a vertical farm growing herbs and leafy greens in London, has expanded their operations beyond the pilot stage into their very first full-scale operation. In the last few years, Brexit, and now the coronavirus have shown how reliant England is on other countries for their produce. Chris Davies, the CEO and Founder of Harvest London explains, “when we first started Harvest London there was very little interest in controlled environment agriculture, but now we’re definitely seeing a huge uptick in the business and interest in the industry as a whole. England needs a food policy that will develop over time, and inspire people to get into food and local food systems.”
Harvest London started off as a small proof of concept farm 2.5 years ago, and since then has scaled very quickly. Davies explains the journey has been about fundraising, “Our platform Farm Force allows us to manage our capacity, understanding what the capacity is and enabling us to say that we’ve been operating at full capacity. Operating at 100% capacity for most of 2018 gave us the impetus to begin approaching angel investors and to do a crowdfunding round at the tail end of 2019, through which we raised £400,000.”
In 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, Harvest London raised another £500,000 from angel investors and the UK Government’s Future Fund, matching their initial investment, and raising nearly a million pounds. “We spent the first £400,000, our own money, to build the farm rather than going down the leasing route or financing route. The second £500,000 gave us a stronger footing to approach a proper series of funding.” According to Davies, the farm plans to produce about 5 tons of basil each year, and those sales are secure for the next three years. “We’ve signed a long term contract with one of our primary customers to essentially buy all that we produce for the next three years,” he says. The security of this type of contract has allowed Harvest London to build this full-scale farm. Building off this momentum, Harvest London plans to do another round of funding in order to build more farms and expand their operation across the UK.
The team at Harvest London built an ebb and flow flood and drain system that is going to be completely automated from the environment and dosing perspective, “We’re using a PRIVA BMS system that controls the HVAC and dosing, we’re mushing that data together with the human-generated data, which allows us to be more data-driven. And so, the yield, quality control, quality itself, and taste profile all allow us to optimize our operations,” Davies explains.
Why is Basil a Key Crop?
Harvest London is focusing on working with chefs, restaurants, and food groups that have made sustainability a priority. Davies explains this is because there is enough space in the B2B realm, and “we do not necessarily want to be working with the local groceries at this young stage.”
“Our main customer is a well-known restaurant chain with about 15 locations. We won them over through a blind taste test of their existing basil that comes from the hills of Italy (DOP designation Basil, Denominazione di Origine Protetta), and our basil.” Because of the locality, the harvest to delivery process is within hours, which is a major selling point to customers. Because of this, Harvest London was able to sign a three-year contract. Davies further describes, “We did further supply chain calculations to prove that they’d save over one hundred and fifty thousand food miles per year. Having more control over the size and variety of basil allowed them to have a more sustainable and local supply chain.”
Upon the customer’s own internal analysis, it was revealed that they buy five tons of basil every year, but that they only get to use forty-five percent of that. Harvest London’s partnership allows them to eliminate waste, “Over the length of this three-year contract, we’ve agreed to work with them to improve their usable yield,” Davies said. “For this particular deal, we knew that Basil was going to be a key crop. we knew that basil, from our perspective, is a good crop because of its price point, and that there was this version of captured demand.”
Harvest London’s client was interested in improving the sustainability of their Italian tomato sauce, however, they were the first company to talk to them about improving the sustainability of their actual business.