Part of our special series of episodes that we’re recording in partnership with the European PR Agency, Tyto, and their own Without Borders podcast, this interview is with Erez Galonska, Co-Founder & CEO, Infarm.
The 22nd in our series of episodes that we’re recording in partnership with the European PR Agency Tyto and their own Without Borders podcast.
Russell Goldsmith and co-host, Tyto’s Senior Partner, Holly Justice were joined online from Berlin, by Erez Galonska, CEO and Founder of Infarm, a company whose smart modular farming system allows distribution of farms throughout the urban environment, growing fresh produce in any available space and fulfilling any market demand.
The company reached unicorn status in December 2021, after raising $200million in Series D funding, taking the total to more than $500million raised from world-leading investors.
While working with 50% of the leading retailers worldwide, Infarm are also operational in 11 countries, with more than 1,000 purpose-driven employees working alongside them on the mission.
A Broken Food System
When discussing the current food system and supply chain, Erez said: “In the next decades, we will need to increase production by 70% or alternatively, some people say we will need two extra planets in order to feed the growing population.”
With this as an incentive behind the growing mission, they’re trying to find ways to feed the expanding population, in a more sustainable yet efficient way.
Erez explained that it’s estimated that 70-80% of the population will live in cities, a sizeable distance from where food is produced. A staggering 30-50% of food produced is currently wasted before being served on our plates, and the food that survives the long journeys, lack vitamins, freshness, taste, flavour, and is usually contaminated with chemicals.
He discussed that the modular farms have built-in sensors, allowing them to track the growing conditions inside the units, which act like climate machines, bringing the Mediterranean climate into every corner of the farms. With full control of the conditions, they can constantly develop their research, to perfect the growing recipes.
Their incredibly unique approach to farming enables them to collect a significant amount of data, with their latest milestone totalling four billion data points per month.
As the data grows, so does their research, including a recently announced partnership with Wageningen University, in the Netherlands. This knowledge about plants and how they grow, allows them to constantly increase the yield, quality and nutritional value, with fewer resources. This is why they promote the concept of premium products at affordable prices.
The diverse Infarms have various models for various levels of demand, which means they can grow with the rise of trade, like with supermarkets, that regularly add more categories and varieties.
He thinks it’s a unique concept in the world of agriculture, as big greenhouses or vertical farms are commonly used, but in these plant factories, there is one homogenous climate. They can decentralise climate and create varied units next to each other and grow strawberries next to salad for example.
Each unit can be deployed in six to eight weeks, making it a reliable year-round production. It also imposes the chance to bring the same quality strawberries all year round in the UK, with no fluctuation in cost, as it’s fixed, based on the demand of the market. Which inevitably creates a more resilient and sustainable farming network.
Erez doesn’t just look at what could happen in the next 12 months, but at the forecast for the next decade. His predictions focus on farming based on what people need to eat and not eat, along with putting less emphasis on products unable to survive the lengthy supply chain.
He said the future is “going to be tasty, ultra-efficient and personalized, and we are very much living on that front and continue to push to make that happen.”
Erez explained inevitably reaching unicorn status has changed the perception of the business, with every round they raise, comes an ever-growing pressure, to show they’re capitalising to meet the terms of the contract they’ve signed.
He hopes it will be a milestone for the entire agriculture industry, as there are more and more players that need premium products at affordable prices. He said that they’re immensely proud for being the first one in Europe, to reach that milestone.
Erez said, from a brand perspective, their initial strategy concentrated on putting the farms on display to the end consumers. Over the next few years, they want to showcase their supply chain, from the way they produce food, to why they’re doing what they do, and more about the sustainability impact of their farms.
All of this is part of their radical and transparent approach to farming, he insisted that people can count on them to be honest, which is a big part of building a trustworthy brand.
He said: “In the end, this is food – you want to know the people that are producing your food, where it’s coming from, what its content is and what its taste is, who else is eating it and maybe how they’re using the ingredients.”
He hopes it will inspire others to explore similar avenues, and that the food industry will become much more honest, reliable, sustainable, and of course tasty. He said this was his initial problem, ten years ago, he would say to his friends and family that he wanted to grow his own food on the top of a mountain, and they thought he was crazy. His lack of access to fresh, diverse, sustainable, or healthy products, turned him to grow it himself.
He explained: “it actually came from that feeling of wanting to control what you put inside your body and wanting it to be healthy”.
Advice for Future Leaders
Erez recommends transparency, which is something he wishes he’d brought to the business in the earlier days, as it took them some time to understand the power of honesty.
Finally, he said if he could go back in time and speak to his younger self, he wouldn’t just be a leader that hides behind a shield, but one that engages with people more.