Apr 4, 2023
Onward and Upward: Montel Transforms the VF Sector with Mobile Vertical Racking
The vertical farming sector is relatively new, with just over ten years of innovation. The sector itself has created many operators, suppliers, and tech companies, yet there have also been companies entering from outside the sector with transferable technology. Montel is an exciting success story that meets this profile.
Founded in 1924 as an industrial steel manufacturer and equipment supplier in Quebec, Montel has transformed over the last century to become a leader in high-density mobile storage systems and intelligent storage equipment like shelving, racking, carts, and art racks for a variety of markets and applications, including cannabis and indoor farms. Henry Gordon-Smith spoke with Montel’s CEO, Jérôme Doucet, to learn more about their journey into indoor agriculture and where they are looking to expand next within the industry.
Montel received their first indoor grow lead in 2016 from Kevin Biernacki who, at the time, was working for the Grove, the first licensed cannabis growing operation in the United States. As their Cultivation Manager, he was searching for highly developed equipment to optimize space horizontally and vertically and was particularly taken by the mobile capability of Montel’s racking units. Montel provided the Grove with an electrically powered, mobile vertical rack system, the first of its kind in a vertical farm in North America.
When Doucet finally visited the facility, he and Biernacki hit it off and immediately understood the potential of their connection – Biernacki is, in fact, working for Montel now. From their first conversation, the pair began brainstorming the industry’s future, jumping from cannabis, to lettuce, to herbs, to microgreens. As Montel’s near 100-year history included a heavy focus on electrical apparatus and steel manufacturing, Doucet was sure Montel had a role to play. His intuition paid off as Montel has now outfitted hundreds and hundreds of indoor grows. And some indoor grows were major projects to manage during installation since some consisted of more than 100,000 sq. foot of lettuce stacked up vertically to 28 feet high.
Montel’s success can be found in its balance between traditional farming and high technology. Doucet states that vertical farms that overinvest in tech often struggle and those who start small and grow based on their market reach are often the ones that stick around. This is why Montel has developed a range of products at different price points that Doucet refers to as “good, better, best.” This way, they can provide solutions for operators of different budgets and help save money on parts of the operation that don’t require top-of-the-line equipment.
This innate nimbleness of their company is something that Montel has intentionally developed over the years.
“We realized we had to be nimble and provide unique products for different growers. Innovation is key. If you’re not innovating, you’re not going to survive in this industry. The needs are so different from one grower to the other, you need to be able to adapt quickly,” says Doucet.
To be sure Montel has the ability to keep innovating and meeting the demands of the industry, the company acquired the land and building beside Montel’s current factory, providing an additional 150,000 square feet to develop top-of-the-line machinery. They have also made mention of building an R&D indoor farm to deepen their understanding of growers’ needs which will help them make adjustments to existing products or introduce entirely new products faster. Doucet’s hope for this space is to be able to explore their dreams, projects, and visions without limitation.
One of these future projects includes further engineering their product lines to be more adaptable and efficient. This includes accommodating irrigation pipes seamlessly throughout the system and some others that are confidential for now as Montel seeks patent protection.
Doucet is also looking forward to innovations that come through their various partnerships.
Finally, as if reminiscent of their first conversation, Doucet and Biernacki share that they see a future where cannabis growers begin diversifying their product types by introducing food. In fact, Biernacki knows of a few growers who have begun brainstorming this idea. Doucet believes that cannabis growers should look at mushrooms as, like cannabis, they are a high-value crop, and the mushroom market is relatively untapped.
Time will only tell if this prediction of theirs comes true. But if Montel keeps it up, they will be ready to meet the industry's future, whatever it may be.