Personal Indoor Farming: Competitive Landscape

If you’re interested in this analysis, I recommend also reading my overview of the ‘personal indoor farming’ opportunity.

It’s still early days, but here are a bunch of different solutions and products ‘cropping’ up in the personal indoor farming landscape. In this post, I’ll take a closer look at several of them.

I bucket a startup into what it’s initial offering is. Most companies are likely looking at leveraging brand, distribution, knowledge, and tech to cross into other categories over time.

Here are 4+ of the startups leading the personal indoor farming category:

Urban Cultivator (sold to Urban Hydroponics, Inc.)

Urban Cultivator

The residential version of the Urban Cultivator is a minifridge-sized appliance with fluorescent lighting and two trays in it for microgreens. It retails for a bit under ~$3k.

They’ve done a good job setting up distribution in all of North America as well as branding and marketing with an endorsement from Martha Stewart, etc…

I wonder what their sales figures are on this consumer/residential unit. Urban Hydroponics, Inc. offered Urban Cultivator ~$1.4M in bridge financing in 2014, then fully ‘merged with’ (bought) Urban Culivator in 2015.

Urban Cultivator’s “Living Produce Aisle” with their larger ~$8k units

Urban Cultivator has developed the concept of the ‘Living Produce Aisle’ which serves as a see-it, taste-it, juice-it, smell-it retail experience for this notion of indoor farming (exclusively in their units). This retail experience seems like a great way to engage consumers.

Agrilution (Germany)

Agrilution prototype concept: plantCube

Agrilution CEO Max Loessl is super knowledgeable on indoor and vertical farming and co-runs the international AVF (Association for Vertical Farming) with Henry Gordon-Smith.

Photos of Agrilution’s prototypes are available on the web, but I’m unsure if they’re in homes yet.

Grove

The Grove Ecosystem

Disclosure: I’m the CEO at Grove.

We’re an early-mover in the category, with a unique brand, differentiated product (mostly due to use of aquaponics) and strong R&D pipeline. Our biggest assets are our passionate team and supportive investors. Our first product, the Ecosystem, is selling well and response from customers has been very positive since we released our first unit 2+ years ago. We’re in production but still ~160 units backordered.

Our biggest challenge is our price point. At $3500+, the Ecosystem is inaccessible to many people — especially those who have the capacity and interest to be really engaged and successful with the product/experience. Our healthy margins allow us to test pricing and we plan for pricing to come down drastically over time.

We also recognize that our brand indicates a more playful, youthful brand than many of our customers (who, at this stage, are slightly older and more established. They recognize and are willing to pay for quality and lifestyle). So we’ll also unveil a new marketing/messaging/brand feel later this Fall.

The Ecosystem was designed to yield a significant amount of greens, herbs, and fruiting crops (including cannabis). But we are in R&D with more productive systems with similar footprints. We will keep selling the Ecosystem on the other merits — fresh air, connection to nature, a beautiful centerpiece for the home — rather than as a yield-focused unit. We chose this (and could have designed a more production-focused unit first), but this is a challenge we face.

The other big challenge for us at Grove is educating the market on aquaponics. Saying “garden fresh food in your home” is one thing and people tend to get it, but when people dig a little deeper and realize the aquarium is necessary and there’s fish, and there’s bacteria going on, some people get squeamish or don’t think they have the bandwidth. So, we have an education challenge (on the other hand, it’s interesting to people and that’s why some of our videos have gone viral). We chose aquaponics because it is, in so many ways, a drastically better customer experience. Once customers start with aquaponics, most realize the hands-off nature of letting a natural ecosystem do the work is a great solution, rather than dealing with chemical-based hydroponic systems that require more ongoing maintenance. They also appreciate the rich flavor and complex bouquet found in aquaponically-grown greens/herbs/fruits (typically much more than hydroponically-grown).

For Grove to be successful, we need to have super happy customers, we need to bring our price point down, we need to keep focused on producing more efficient, more productive, and more compelling offerings to reach a wider audience, and we need to up our branding to reflect the quality and maturity of our work while producing inspiring stories and content of the future we envision. While people are engaging on the app as we designed (week over week engagement is strong), we need to continue making it a blast to use while developing our renewables model into a more significant and profitable part of the business — most of this has to do with achieving some level of scale with consumers (related to lower hardware price points and financing options) and we can also more intentionally design our seed packets/pods and root-zones.

Tower Garden

Tower Garden (with indoor T5 lighting)

The Tower Garden is ~$700–1K (difference is whether you include the optional fluorescent grow lights or now) and is one of the most productive units available for in-home use.

It’s made and marketed (to consumers) by a company called ‘Juice Plus’ out of Tennessee, which was founded in 1970 to ‘inspire healthy living around the world.’

I use a Tower Garden myself and love it. Unfortunately, it’s very loud and not very automated or efficient. But it is very, very productive.

RiseBox (France) & Crofters (India)

RiseBox (France)

Two international consumer indoor farming companies using aquaponics and furniture-like design.

These are both still in prototype phase, and still need to learn from customers and iterate. I will be interested to stay in touch with them and learn from the different consumer/market patterns and opportunities in Europe and Asia.

Cannabis-Focus (exclusive focus on helping grow cannabis in automated farming appliance)

There is a small, and growing trend of in-home cannabis production. It’s still super early and not very efficient.

  • Macro-trend: this will be big, 10–15 years out once people stop trusting their weed.
  • Market for Growbo and Leaf — too narrow.

It’s funny — as cannabis legalizes, more people will likely use it. But that number of people who will want to actually take part in home-growing it is hard to project. After the alcohol prohibition ended in the US, would it have been wise to invest in beer brew-at-home systems/companies? Or is that the time to invest in traditional and conventional production and distribution methods? Bigger returns certainly would have come from the latter. The same may be true in 2012–2025 as cannabis legalizes across the US. Of course, these indoor-grow system companies can still get really big, but their real competition over the medium term will be dispensaries and commercial grow operations.

On the other hand, perhaps cannabis is the ‘killer app’ for consumer/in-home indoor growing. This is the first crop to offer real ROI due to it’s insane cost per ounce, even after prohibition ends and the taxes are very high at dispensaries. Maybe it’s the highest growth and most profitable way into this industry and will allow a company to scale to the point where production costs are low enough, and automation is high enough to enter into fresh produce (maybe under same brand, maybe a new brand). That’s a real possibility.

Companies (early) focused on in-home cannabis growing: Grobo, Leaf


Out of business/unsure:

Windowfarms — was a leader in the space for a while after their successful 2011 Kickstarter campaign. Never made it to real commercial success, but did have a highly active community of DIYers etc.. it was like the Homebrew Computer Club but for personal gardening devices. Now their website appears to be down/non-active. Bummer :(

GrowBox — Last postings are from about November 2015. Seemed to never move past beta.


Bringing people closer to fresh food and to nature in their homes is massive opportunity. If you share in that belief, or you’re intrigued, let’s be in touch!

Thanks for reading,

Gabe

Email: gabe@grovelabs.io
Twitter: @gblanchet3

Additional Reading

My brainstorm on ‘Composition of a great team for consumer indoor farming companies

Liz’s post on ‘Your Grove Is Not A Device

My brainstorm on ‘small, hobby indoor gardening device companies

My analysis of the market opportunity and exit opportunities