On first meeting, Paul Lightfoot is not necessarily the one you’d pick to drag the grocery business out of the dark ages. The 43-year-old has an earnest manner and a penchant for blue button-down shirts. But he’s also food lover who regularly drives his wife crazy by combing through the pantry and throwing out processed snacks that, in his mind, don’t qualify as food.
After a decade developing retail supply-chain software, Lightfoot is just as comfortable talking about “sales variability” and “disintermediation” as he is about heirloom vegetables. His brain seems trained to zero in on the tiny gaps in a supply chain that, once closed, can over time save companies millions of dollars. That is why, when he turned his attention to distributing fresh produce, he came up with a concept that would promise to accomplish two goals: allow big grocery chains to embrace the craze for local food and also improve the slow-growing industry’s bottom line.
My latest Smarter Food column looks at that concept, BrightFarms, a New York-based company that builds, owns and manages urban greenhouses to sell lettuces, tomatoes and herbs to grocery stores. Launched in 2011, BrightFarms already has a Pennsylvania facility that serves 10 grocery stores and has deals to build seven more in cities that include Oklahoma City, St. Louis, St. Paul and the District.