Newly founded company Onna is building Norway’s largest vertical farm in Moss. There they hope to grow 350 tons of lettuce and herbs a year.
– The ambition is to increase local vegetable production in Norway and bring really fresh and healthy salads to the table, Kristina Løfman tells E24.
As General Manager of Onna, he is now targeting the fruit and vegetable import market.
The start-up is now building Moss’ 4,000 square meter vertical farm. It is the largest of its kind in Norway and will cost around NOK 60 million.
– The Norwegian salad market is growing very fast and consumers are increasingly looking for green and sustainable products. With this facility, we can produce 350 tons of lettuce per year, says Løfman.
60 percent of all Norwegian lettuce is imported, and the annual production of 350 tons corresponds to 2.8 percent of all imported lettuce, the Fruit and Vegetable Information Office reports. In addition, the plant will start to produce herbs and fruit is possible on the horizon.
According to plans, the Onna facility should be ready by the end of the year.
– We are building facility number two quite quickly. We have a ready-made property right next to the first factory and it has 2-3 times the capacity of the number one factory, says Løfman.
This means that Onna can produce 10 percent of all imported lettuce in a relatively short time.
– We envision ourselves as the leading player in the Nordics in the next five years. Things can happen very quickly, says Løfman, who also talks about plans for a third factory near Copenhagen in southern Sweden.
The Japanese concept was brought to Norway
Onna started in 2018. A few years earlier, Are Andenæs Huser, who is usually the executive director of the industry organization Norsk takst, had been on a business trip to Japan.
There, he saw vertical farming growing in a Tokyo subway station. He got inspired, read the concept and took the initiative for the company, now called Onna.
Offal from Norway’s largest vertical farm is also imported from Japan, similar to the idea.
– We have received a turnkey solution from Mirai, says Onna CEO Løfman.
The Japanese company has been engaged in vertical farming in Japan for 14 years.
“We started a dialogue with Mirai in 2018 and it has taken a long time to develop this relationship, but now we have a five-year exclusivity agreement with the Nordics,” says Løfman.
In addition to filling the facility with equipment, Mirai also provides training for the approximately 20 employees who will be working there.
The need for workers is divided between manual labor (harvesting, sowing and miscellaneous) and specialized skilled occupations such as agronomists and plant specialists.
A billion dollar industry overseas
Onna will be the first large-scale vertical farming in Norway, but the industry has already grown significantly abroad.
The global market for vertical farming products is estimated to be NOK 120 billion by 2026.
Softbank and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos have invested two billion kroons vertical farming company Plenty.
Google Ventures and Uber CEO Khosrowshahi brought in $900 million for Bowery Farming. Ikea and Dubai Sheikh have invested NOK 400 million in Aerofarms.
Oslo-listed but US-based Kalera is valued at NOK 5.8 billion and owned by Stein Erik Hagen. They also recently got Donald Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture on board.
Short-distance food protects Norway against the climate crisis
Before Løfman joined Onna, he studied climate change. It was a frustrating case, but he believes that vertical farming can be part of the solution to the climate crisis.
– Globalized food production puts a heavy burden on the environment and climate and causes a lot of food waste and transport emissions, in addition to not being a very efficient use of resources.
– We see that convenience food is the solution to this, says Løfman.
Therefore, he wants to increase the production of fruit and vegetables in Norway to replace the part that is currently imported.
– It is also not certain that our salad from abroad will arrive in five years, when the climate changes. That’s why we have to produce more here, says Løfman.
The salad should not have ribs
Bama and Gartnerhallen, Norway’s largest fruit and vegetable producers, have previously expressed skepticism about vertical farming.
“The experience so far is that it has been difficult to get money in this kind of production,” Gartnerhallen R&D Manager Ellen Hovland told E24 last year.
– We need time before we can find out how we want to use the technology in our value chain, said Harald Osa, head of research and development at Bama.
According to E24, Gartnerhallen and Bama confirm that they have not communicated with Onna about distribution.
Nevertheless, the salad producer has other routes to market.
“We have a lot of enthusiasm and interest in the company from potential customers, and we already have letters of intent with several customers and distributors that represent relevant volumes,” says Løfman, who does not yet want to reveal where the salad can be found. sell one day.
According to the Financial Times, there are still no profitable vertical farms outside of Japan.
However, Løfman does not want to sell the salad from the plant at a luxury price.
– We start from the average prices of the sector and although there is a huge choice between cheap iceberg lettuce from Spain and organic arugula from Italy, we place ourselves somewhere in between.
That means there might be a price tag on Moss’s head of lettuce 15–45 NOK.
– The bottom line is that if you want to be a contributor to the food system, you have to price it so that people can actually buy it, it can’t be a premium or elite product.
– What’s the point if not everyone can buy it, says Løfman.