JD.com enters food production business with hydroponic plant

Chinese e-commerce giant has entered the food production business with a 11,040 square metre hydroponic plant in China, built in partnership with Japan's Mitsubishi Chemical.

JD.com has made its foray into the fresh food production business with a 11,040 square metre hydroponic plant in China, where the produce will be made available to its customers online and at its chain of supermarkets.

Located in the Tongzhou District of Beijing, the facility was built in partnership with Japan's chemical manufacturing company Mitsubishi Chemical, said the Chinese e-commerce operator in a statement Thursday. The plant currently produces a range of vegetables including spinach, cabbage, and coriander, and uses an integrated hydroponic culturing system with solar light as well as a closed seedling production environment with artificial light.

The fresh produce are tracked from when they are planted to when they are delivered, and will be made available to JD.com's customers online and at its 7Fresh supermarkets this month, it said, noting that more fruits and vegetables will be added to its production in future.

The close monitoring of crops at the factory was in line with increasing demand for transparency, especially amongst Chinese consumers who sought the assurance of food safety, the company noted. It added that the "overuse of fertiliser, environmental deterioration, and rapid population increase" had also resulted in soil problems.

JD.com last year deployed a blockchain platform that was touted to enable customers to view the sourcing and development process of foods and products they purchased on its online marketplace. It said at the time that the technology had been applied to more than 400 brands and 11,000 SKUs (stock-keeping units).

It said the Tongzhou plant's temperature, humidity, light, and liquid fertiliser were automatically controlled by the on-site management system, allowing for "more standardised production" of vegetables without concerns about seasonal changes.

The plant also was able to produce a higher output of vegetables, churning out 19 batches of spinach a year compared to four batches annually in a field or six per year in a greenhouse. In addition, just half a litre of water was required to grow any of the the hydroponic factory's vegetables, JD.com said.

The Chinese company added that the facility was integrated with its cold chain logistics network, enabling vegetables to be delivered to customers the same day they were harvested.

JD.com's FMCG and food Wang Xiaosong said: "The JD Plant Factory marks JD's entry into the very beginning of the fresh food production chain, allowing us to guarantee that the fresh goods we sell have been treated with the care JD applies to everything we do. JD's supply chain technology, logistics network, and e-commerce expertise combined with Mitsubishi Chemical's sophisticated growing technology puts us in an ideal position to create an entirely new model for agriculture, and cultivates a fresh and healthy lifestyle in China."

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(Image: JD.com)