French startup Agricool has raised $4.3 million (€4 million) from newly launched VC firm Daphni as well as Parrot founder Henri Seydoux and Captain Train (acquired by Trainline) co-founder Jean-Daniel Guyot. Agricool’s product is quite unusual as the company wants to grow strawberries and later other fruits and vegetables inside shipping containers.
With many people moving to mega-cities, it has become increasingly difficult to provide good food to people living in these cities. In just a few decades, there will be many, many cities with tens of millions of people living there. It’s a logistical and environmental challenge.
That’s probably one of the reasons why processed foods have taken off. It’s so much easier to ship across great distances instead of relying on perishable goods.
And yet, many cooks are trying to reverse this trend, looking for fresh and local ingredients for their recipes. It’s a good trend, but it also means that you’re limiting your options, especially in places with a hostile weather.
Why do we keep seeing the same bright red tomatoes that never go bad and don’t taste like anything? Intensive farming has been great to fight hunger issues, but it’s time to look further — in this case, it means going back to what makes food tastes great in the first place.
Agricool is trying to do something about this and started with strawberries. Instead of relying on trucks filled with strawberries coming from Turkey, Germany, Spain or Italy, the startup tried to produce strawberries right where they were, in Paris.
If you can control the light, the water, the substrate and other factors, the startup noticed that you can grow strawberries anywhere — including in a shipping container.
Then, it’s a matter of optimizing all these factors so you can produce more strawberries from a single container, or cooltainer as the company calls them. The company doesn’t want to use any pesticide and my guess is that it’s going to take a while to make these strawberries as cheap as existing strawberries.
The company is now renting a big warehouse to fill with containers. There’s probably a fair share of A/B testing going on, but with fruits and not website designs. With today’s funding round, Agricool wants to create 75 containers in 2017 and install them around Paris — the goal is to produce 91 tons of strawberries.
The startup also wants to test other crops soon. Maybe some vegetables and fruits will be harder than others when it comes to growing them in a container. It’s going to be a long, capital-intensive venture to iterate on those containers. But it’s an interesting take on the food industry.