Challenger to Watch: Bowery
For making food grow up
The current world population of 7.6 billion is expected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030. Meanwhile, a third of Earth's soil is already acutely degraded due to agriculture. Fellow Earth-dwellers, we have a problem...
That's a lot more mouths to feed. And little fertile soil left to grow food. No wonder insects have all but given up trying to reproduce. The searing stench of pesticide would be enough to make Dov Charney think twice.
Thankfully, technology's advance means we can grow food far more efficiently than previously thought.* Crops can grow indoors, under LED lights and be stacked vertically in an area to maximise outputs, whilst automated irrigation makes it possible to use 95% less water than traditional farming.
Combining food production with robotics, automation and IoT technology, Agri-tech (or Ag-tech in the US) is completely revolutionising the industry that led to civilisation itself, providing far higher yields and faster growth rates in crops than traditional farming methods. Maybe 2030 won't be so bad after all?
With LED lighting becoming significantly more energy efficient, as well as considerably cheaper to manufacture in recent years, growing food indoors now makes economic sense too, opening opportunities for business.
Plenty, a vertical farming company raised $200 million in a Series B round of funding last year, the largest agri-tech investment to date, which included backing from Amazon founder, and the world's richest man, Jeff Bezos.
While indoor farming is a fast-growing category, it is still in its infancy, and the companies that succeed in this new space will have to deliver on both the technology and production efficiencies as well as on an irresistible brand and experience.
AeroFarms, Gotham Greens and Plenty (who interestingly already follow strikingly similar visual design cues) are just some of these new indoor farming companies, but Bowery look most likely to breakthrough as the poster child of indoor farming in 2018.
Appearing to adopt the 'next generation' challenger brand narrative, Bowery describes itself as "The Modern Farming Company", elegantly implying that all other farming companies are not modern, outdated even. Cheeky.
In truth, it's the entire indoor farming industry itself that is the 'next generation' challenger to traditional farming, but Bowery, unlike its indoor competitors, has taken the industry vs industry dynamic, and made it the central thrust of its brand positioning. It's simple, but effective.
Bowery's 'next-gen' produce is referred to as 'post-organic'. Whilst the 'post' prefix is perhaps a little clichéd to marketers, it's still undeniably effective at providing consumers with a simple, binary choice. "Times have changed. Being 'organic' is no longer enough", Bowery implies. "Are you with us or not?"
Forbes, Fast Company and Business Insider have all repeated the 'post-organic' phrase in their coverage of Bowery, effectively doing the marketing department's job for them, and demonstrating the value to a brand of a pithy two-word summary.
Just good copy? Maybe. But these memorable and repeatable phrases point to a clarity of brand positioning Bowery's indoor farming competitors currently lack. And as we know, the tech companies that go on to succeed are usually those that tell their story well, and are consistent in doing that.
Baby kale, butterhead lettuce and arugula (that's rocket to us Brits) feature in Bowery's product range. Apparently, root vegetables are much harder to grow and harvest indoors, so there's no carrots or potatoes just yet - probably too mainstream-a-vegetable for Bowery's early adopters anyway. Phew.
*This is not an invitation for Evil Corp (aka Monsanto) to destroy what remains of the Amazon rainforest. Those new mouths to feed will also need clean oxygen to breathe, so all that barren farmland that used to be vibrant jungle should just be returned to Mother Nature to let her do her thing. OK!