Interview with Daniele Benatoff, co-founder and co-CEO of Planet Farms, a leading Italian company in vertical farming

Daniele Benatoff is the co-founder and co-CEO of Planet Farms, a leading Italian company in vertical farming.

Before Planet Farms, Daniele Benatoff achieved a BSc in Economics cum laude at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

Since 2002, Daniele has been living in London, where he worked for ten years for Goldman Sachs in private equity and then at the head of the bank’s internal hedge fund. After starting his own business and managing his hedge fund, Benros Capital, Daniele ran the European business of Halcyon Asset Management.

Since 2002, Daniele has been living in London, where he worked for ten years for Goldman Sachs in private equity and then at the head of the bank’s internal hedge fund. After starting his own business and managing his hedge fund, Benros Capital, Daniele ran the European business of Halcyon Asset Management.

Daniele has been an angel investor for years, focused mainly on companies in the technology and consumer products spaces. This passion culminated in his decision to join forces with Luca, a childhood friend, and create Planet Farms.

You started your career in finance, and then in 2017, together with Luca Travaglini you founded Planet Farms, a vertical farming company. What led you to this decision? How did the idea of Planet Farms come about?

Daniele: The idea was not mine but actually Luca’s who came across vertical farming in Japan after the Fukushima disaster. Luca took the idea and applied his existing knowledge from decades spent in the food industry, coming up with a radically new and innovative solution for vertical farming: at that time Luca and I reconnected and we brought together very different skill sets to help create a new company that would create a new leader in the vertical farming space, bringing together Italian quality, incredible efficiency, automation and high degrees of resource efficiency and therefore sustainability.

Planet Farms is a truly unique system where a seed goes in and a package of ready to eat product comes out of the other side guaranteeing high quality, fresh produce every day to large urban cities, with a very sustainable use of resources, from water to land. Our crops are cared for thanks to our artificial intelligence system Gaia, which makes sure that every hour of every day our plants are delivered everything they need to achieve the best possible result.

From the left: Luca Travaglini and Daniele Benatoff

So, Planet Farms is a company that has developed a vertical farming system that perfectly harmonises all the fundamental parameters for growing vegetables, resulting in a product rich in taste and nutrients. Can you tell us more about the business model of the company?

Daniele: Our business model is made up of two parts, two souls of the company living under the same umbrella: the first one is our technology and R&D soul, which develops the technology in pushing the envelope on the agronomy side and in creating the entire system of harmonisation of product grow, automation and software which allows us to deliver our outstanding product and results. In addition to that, our system allows us to collect data and make our system smarter, more sustainable and more efficient every single day, in an environment where we grow with full automation, no human contact and in a clean room environment which guarantees a healthy, safe product, that doesn’t need to be washed, with incredible qualities. The other side is the production side which sees its foremost expression in the large facility we have in Cavenago and the small one in Brusaporto inside a three Michelin star restaurant.

Currently, Planet Farms branded products are available at the leading Italian retailers (Esselunga, Iper la grande I, Unes, Il Viaggiator Goloso and Il Gigante) and some dark stores (Gorillas and Macai): blond lettuce (Lattugood), three salad mixes (Yummix Vivace, Yummix Esotico, Yummix Delicato) and rocket (Rucool).

In addition, we recently launched PESTOOH, our pesto made from vertically-grown basil. It is a unique product of very high quality, with just tastes amazing thanks to its the incredibly good and fresh basil and the very short supply chain.

PESTOOH
Blond lettuce, salad mixes and rocket

Strong impact and sustainability values permeate the entire company. What benefits do Planet Farms and its products offer its stakeholders? What are the key values of the company?

Daniele: Our mission is to bring taste to the world without depriving the planet of its resources. We are transforming the way we do agriculture. We are proud of our Italian culinary tradition. We have created the ultimate sustainable vertical farm to create a new future where we can feed people with fresh, nutritious and tasty food that is good for us and for our planet.

Going Vertical is more than just thinking big. It is turning the way we think. We have always looked upwards. To find food, inspiration and answers, even as a species, we have evolved upwards, from primates to homo verticalis, as we like to call ourselves. And we at Planet Farms apply this philosophy to every aspect of our business: people, technology, architecture, quality, investment and, of course, taste.

Our production chain aims to grow a final product with authentic flavour, excellent nutritional values and no pesticides. The most amazing aspect is that we can achieve all this while minimising our impact through the responsible use of space and water and an environmentally friendly packaging.

Production facility in Cavenago
Basil cultivation

In 2021, you raised over € 30 million, the largest series A round of the year in Europe in the food and agritech sectors. What are the development plans of the company?

Daniele: The capital raised with the latest fundraising round will support the further geographical expansion of the company in Italy and abroad. In addition, we are working to create a new research and development centre to explore new and further potential of vertical farming in the food sector and more efficient production techniques.

We want to be the most innovative vertical farming company on the Planet. For us, growing is not just about getting bigger. It is about developing bold ideas, growing ingenious people with positive attitudes, cultivating your confidence, and more and more tasty, healthy and sustainable vegetables. And that is what vertical thinking is all about.

What are the main challenges you experienced in creating Planet Farms and are facing now in the growth phase? What would you suggest to founders approaching the scaling-up stage?

Daniele: The main challenge at this stage is to achieve our full potential: the technology is constantly improving, the consumers love our products, now the question mark is “how fast can we scale?”, since the startup phase has finished and the scaleup phase begins now.

This means more people, multiple languages and countries, the development of more structure and processes to deliver a consistent and fast result everywhere we go.

One of the main challenges is finding talented people who share our mission and vision. Today there are about 80 Planet Farmers across 4 different countries and we continue to seek talents everywhere we go to make sure that we can achieve our mission and goals.


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For more info on Planet Farms, visit: https://www.planetfarms.ag/en