Ocado has upped its stake in vertical farming specialist Jones Food Company to help support the building of more farms next year.

The online grocery giant bought a 58% stake in Jones Food Co in November 2019 and is understood to have exercised an option in that deal to grow its ownership to approximately 70% of the company.

Ocado’s investment will help the indoor produce grower build three more farms in the UK before the end of 2021.

CEO and founder, James Lloyd-Jones told The Grocer: “Their investment is helping us very keenly understand all aspects of the systems we’re building, so we can make sure we’ve got price parity with field and greenhouse grown, year-round.”

Scunthorpe-based Jones Food Co is Europe’s largest vertical farm operation, with its 5,000 sq m facility stacking up 12 metres high over 17 layers of produce.

Ocado invested in the company as part of a wider £17m bet on vertical farming that also saw it form a joint venture Netherlands-based Priva and US-based 80 Acres called Infinite Acres.

Ocado does not currently list products from its vertical farm operations on its site, but hopes to build vertical farms next to or within its CFCs and Ocado Zoom micro fulfilment centres and has mooted plans to open as many as 10 within five years.

The farm’s first crop was harvested in November 2018 and was sold to food-to-go specialist Greencore.

“We want to provide any sort of crop, grown at a value anyone can buy,” Lloyd-Jones said. “I want vertical farming to become boring and not exciting and techy, because the minute it’s boring we’ve cracked it.”