Metro LeBel experiments with selling "living food"

Technology firm Inno-3B has developed shelving system that keeps food alive

Inno-3B, a Quebec firm in the Lower St. Lawrence, is taking urban farming one step closer to retailers.

Its technology allows grocers, distributors and producers to quick-grow varieties of greens and sell what company president Martin Brault calls “living food.”

As a pilot project, Inno-3B has set up a small factory in La Pocatière, Que. Next month the local supermarket, Metro Lebel, will be the first to start selling living greens off an Inno-3B shelving system that keeps food alive. The new crops are shipped with roots attached, allowing them to live longer.

The company, founded in 2014, has begun discussions with Sobeys, Loblaw and other food producers. Brault says the company started with close to $1 million in seed money and has approached venture capitalists to raise $5 million.

The plan, he says, is to establish what he calls “grow in a box” centres right next to supermarket distribution warehouses and have them ship the produce. He is also hoping to do the same with distributors and growers.

Part of the project includes electric systems consumers can buy that will plug under their kitchen cupboards and keep the food alive until it is ready to be served.

Brault says his system will not only reduce the carbon footprint of shipping food thousands of kilometres from California or Mexico or Chile, but will ensure freshness and reduce waste.

The consumer can pick from his countertop only what he needs that day while the rest keeps living.

“You can push it at least three weeks,” he says. “And you free up space in the fridge.”

Inno-3B is now selling several varieties of lettuce, kale, two kinds of bok choy and parsley, mint, basil and coriander.

Brault says the growing facility in La Pocatiere, about 360 kilometers northwest of Montreal, is a test facility to prove the technology works.

The company, unlike Montreal’s Urban Barns, does not want to grow food. It wants to sell the technology and ideally sell similar systems across the country.

The advantages, says Brault, are uniform quality, taste, freshness, ecologically friendly, quick grow time–a lettuce is ready to eat in 21 days or less–year-round production, reduction of waste in supermarkets and at home and novelty.

Another advantage, of course, is that “growing stuff inside a box,” makes it invulnerable to extremes in climate or price fluctuations. Even greenhouses depend on amounts of sunlight but LED lighting and nutrients delivered hydroponically means the system is weather proof.

“Sobeys we will offer a steady price all year long,” says Brault. “And we will supply restaurants and hotels so they have fresh produce twelve months a year.”

The company will start experimenting with strawberries next year.

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