Farm to Plate in a Day — SproutStack’s Vertical Farming is Changing the Game

March 2, 2022 —

Fresh, delicious, sustainably grown salads for healthier, richer lives — a brand promise that Sprout Stack lives up to exponentially. 

“I’ve actually offered a money-back guarantee — paid for out of my own pocket — if people aren’t convinced that it’s the best damn salad they’ve ever eaten,” says Sprout Stack CEO Hugh McGilligan in one interview with Venture Magazine.

However, not a lot know how Sprout Stack’s salads came to be.

Since 2016, Sprout Stack disrupted the farming industry by providing retailers and consumers year-round access to locally grown and sustainably farmed fresh produce.

So far, Sprout Stack is Australia’s only urban commercial-scale vertical farm that supplies a selection of healthy salads. This forward-thinking brand’s ability to grow contaminant-free food near the heart of Sydney allows them to significantly shorten the supply chain, be closer to their customers, and minimise their overall carbon footprint.

This means their salads get to consumers’ homes in a matter of hours from harvest instead of days, resulting in fresher, cleaner, tastier, more nutritious, and more environment-friendly products than other suppliers.

The pivot to greener pastures

The Sprout Stack team has been operating for almost six years and has perfected their vegetable growing techniques — both hardware and software. Throughout this time, they have been in an exponential growth spurt thanks to innovative thinking and impressive technology.

As scale-up specialists, what stood out to us is their clever approach to marketing, which allowed them to thrive despite constant change and challenge in a massively disruptive world. 

The company started as an equipment manufacturer of an AI-driven plant-growing system (read more about it below) for vertical farms. However, while the vertical farming movement was taking off around the world, Australia has yet to gain its footing. 

We can assume this had limited their market significantly.

They quickly realised that, in order to scale their business successfully, they needed to think outside the box. Instead of selling their AI system, they opted to use it themselves and, in the process, grew the best salads ever! And it paid off ten-fold. 

Thus, the Sprout Stack we know today is born.

This pivot from equipment manufacturer to salad supplier resonates with us deeply as it reminds us of espresso Display’s journey — the makers of the world thinnest portable monitor and one of our most exciting clients.

espresso initially experimented with laptop mount prototypes. However, the testing went awry and almost broke the shell off their computers. Early on, espresso and Sprout Stack founders learned that, as good as their ideas sound in theory, their initial concepts would not work on a grander scale.

This pushed Sprout Stack to then focus all their resources to become Australia’s first urban vertical farm and increase fresh salad production in a hyper sustainable way. 

But how did they enter a market that has been dominated by traditional farming corporations?

Our theory is that, in order to stand out in a highly crowded market, Sprout Stack had to dig deeper into what their target customers truly wanted. 

And the answer was rather simple: Customers want to reconnect to the source of their food, learn what goes into it, and get an idea of how long the supply chain is. For this to succeed, they needed to tell a consistent story and sell it.

This strategy is similar to espresso’s in that we guided them to go beyond stellar specs (which is what espresso’s competitors are still doing). By helping them create a hyper-consistent customer journey — from their website to their storytelling, messaging, and packaging — the spotlight was focused on their value proposition: empowering customers to get more out of their work and lifestyles effortlessly, anywhere. To learn more about how we helped espresso grow 24x in 12 months, click here and here.

By leaning into this game plan, Sprout Stack catapulted themselves into the spotlight while changing the landscape of Australian farming significantly.

Commitment to the triple bottom line

Traditional farms already take up most of the arable land and use up the majority of irrigation water on the planet. This has proven to be environmentally destructive and is the reason why Sprout Stack is passionate about finding ways to double salad production with fewer resources.

“If we want to double our production of food in the next 10 years, that needs to come from improving efficiencies in how we produce that food,” says Sprout Stack Co-Founder Fransico Caffarena.

Currently, Sprout Stack’s vertical farms are around 95% more water-efficient and use only a fifth of the nutrients that traditional agriculture farms utilise. The waste products they generate are either recycled to grow their mushrooms or sold to chicken farmers as feeds.

Slowly and steadily, Sprout Stack has set the bar on how others in their industry must operate to secure a better future for all.

How do they do this? 

By putting an innovative twist to indoor farming. Let’s deep-dive into their revolutionary AI system.

The machine behind it all — Drosera

Inside Sprout Stack’s recycled shipping containers are stacks of vegetables, growing rapidly and sustainably in ideal environments that make use of LEDs and hydroponic systems that offer adequate light, irrigation, and nutrients.

This controlled setup is run by a computer program Sprout Stack named Drosera — after a carnivorous plant. Drosera uses AI machine learning to ensure all produce get the perfect amount of nutrients, hydration, and “sunshine” 365 days a year.

Apart from circumventing Mother Nature’s unpredictability, Drosera keeps produce safe and free from pests, weeds, fungi, and pesticides while keeping resource consumption to a minimum. 

Drosera’s closed-loop system decreases unpredictability and increases efficiency and productivity. Once the produce are stacked in place, a hydroponic solution is supplied to them directly. Any unused solution is stored and used for the next irrigation cycle.

Anything taken up by the plants is naturally turned into vapor, which is then captured by a sump pump, transported to water-salvaging equipment, sterilised using UV light, and — finally — recycled back into the farm.

Drosera also tells the Sprout Stack team when to plant vegetables with differing growth cycles so they can be ready just in time for harvest day. 16 hours later, all their salads are already stocked in grocery stores and ready for purchase.

Since its launch, Sprout Stack has risen above numerous challenges (droughts, bushfires, and even COVID-19) and successfully embraced trends (consumers caring more about where their food is coming from, what goes into it, and how long the supply chain is). 

Disruption and innovation are in their blood, plus a steadfast dedication to environmental and social good — true markers of iconic brands that stand the test of time.

Published by Jack Williams in Disruptor Series

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