Online grocer Ocado has invested £17m in the emerging vertical farming industry as it looks to bolster its technology offering.
Vertical farming involves the production of food in indoor facilities, where crops are grown on a series of levels in a controlled environment.
Ocado said the technique has clear sustainability advantages, including low wastage, low water use and no pesticides.
The firm said the investment could pave the way for a service where vegetables are harvested hours before they are packed.
“We believe that our investments today in vertical farming will allow us to address fundamental consumer concerns on freshness and sustainability and build on new technologies that will revolutionise the way customers access fresh produce,” said chief executive Tim Steiner.
Ocado said it has formed a joint venture called Infinite Acres with Dutch industrial systems provider Priva and US vertical farming firm 80 Acres.
The online grocer has also bought a 58 per cent stake in Scunthrpe-based Jones Food Company (JFC), which is Europe’s largest operating vertical farm.
JFC currently produces leafy greens and herbs for UK customers, with its capacity expected to grow to 420 tonnes per year.
The investment marks Ocado’s latest expansion into technology, which is the driving force behind its grocery operations.
Last month the firm led a £7m seed round for UK robotics firm Karakuri, which produces systems that create personalised meals to fit customer requirements.
Shares in Ocado rose almost 3.5 per cent following the announcement.