French startup Agricool is using containers to grow strawberries around big cities. The company just raised a $9.1 million (€8 million) funding round from Jacques-Antoine Granjon, Thibault Elziere as well as existing investors Henri Seydoux and Daphni.
The great thing about growing fruits in containers is that you can control everything. The company tweaks the temperature, humidity, CO2 level, color spectrum and day/night cycle to get the most out of the strawberries.
For instance, the company wanted to find the perfect LEDs to provide the right shade of light. It bought dozens of LEDs and tried them all, but even the best LED model was disappointing. Agricool ended up hiring someone to design its own LED with a specific shade.
Another interesting example, if you want to imitate the real world, you turn the lights on and off and on again every 24 hours. But do strawberries really need a 24-hour day cycle? Maybe 22 hours are enough and strawberries end up growing more quickly.
In order to do this, Agricool now has a warehouse outside of Paris where it can A/B test all these things using refrigerated rooms. Then, it can manufacture containers tailored to Agricool’s needs — think about it as the concept cars of containers. The company has produced 6 prototypes over the last 12 months.
But that was just step one. Agricool wants to go from concept cars to industrialized processes. Eventually, Agricool wants to outsource the production of those containers and put them around big cities globally.
This summer, the startup is going to put five containers around Paris. One in Bercy, another one next to Vente-Privée’s office, another one on Asnière’s market, etc.
“At first they tell you that strawberries are not going to have a great taste with LEDs, but they like them when they try them,” co-founder and CEO Guillaume Fourdinier told me. “Then they tell you that you can’t scale production, but you scale. And then they tell you you can’t distribute and now we’re going to distribute.”
A 250g pack of strawberries is going to cost €4. On average, Fourdinier says that organic strawberries coming from France cost around €6.70 for 250g.
The main reason why those strawberries are cheaper is because you don’t have to pay middlepersons. There’s no importing company, transportation company, central purchasing, supermarket, etc. Agricool grows strawberries where end customers are going to buy them.
“Our challenge is to find an industrial model that lets us grow quickly from 1 to 1,000 containers,” Fourdinier said. In order to do this, Agricool could eventually become a franchise. The company would focus on research & development, containers and branding, while partners would manage those containers and sell fruits and vegetables.
While the strawberry market is huge, the company is also thinking about producing common vegetables and fruits, such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis and bell peppers. The same model can be used across all those vegetables.
“We want to build the biggest brand for fruits and vegetables,” Fourdinier said. “No pesticide, a lot of flavor, no GMO, harvested and sold on the same day.”