Rooftop farms for supermarkets

May 25, 2011

Demand for local foods is growing. Supermarkets are looking up for potentially the best way to benefit from this trend.

To capitalize on the local food craze, Wegmans, Schnucks and Walmart have invested in farms.  

Other ways to underscore local food appeal in supermarkets include arrangements with farmers’ markets and community gardens as supply sources.

Yet food stores in every kind of market might do one better – with rooftop crops above their stores. It doesn’t get any more local than that.  Shipping costs are nil. Product freshness, assortments to local taste, and quality control are high.

Approaches will vary based on a region’s climate, construction quality, water costs, pest control, zoning ordinances and available expertise. Hydroponics might be most feasible, although greenhouses could effectively extend growing seasons within northern climates.   The Lempert Report won’t dwell on these details – except to say retailers should hire farming experts to run these rooftop gardens.  

Merchandised with flair, harvested crops could become exclusive reasons for shoppers to select a store as a destination. Bountiful gift baskets could add appeal. Perhaps the rooftop gardens could give tours to local senior citizens or students, along with guidance on the role of fruits and vegetables in an eating healthier lifestyle.

The economics are taking shape, according to a New York Times article focusing on Lufa Farms and TerraSphere, both commercial operators that sell what they grow – Lufa to consumers through a co-op, and TerraSphere to a retail chain. Separately, BrightFarms told the Times it has signed up to build rooftop farms for eight U.S. supermarket chains – and forecast each rooftop farm would generate more than $1 million in annual revenues.