McCain Foods has invested in TruLeaf Sustainable Agriculture, with the goal of helping the Bedford-based vertical farm company to accelerate its farm development and reach global markets.

The Florenceville, N.B.-based food giant issued a press release on Thursday announcing the investment, though it did not reveal the dollar amount. McCain was the only investor in the funding round.

The deal is significant for both the companies. For McCain, it is another step in its strategy of investing in startups that use leading technologies like artificial intelligence and data analytics in the food industry. For TruLeaf, it brings in capital and a major corporate relationship as it is poised to enter the Toronto market this year with the opening of a major farm in Guelph, Ont.

“It’s a strategic move on many fronts,” said TruLeaf Founder and CEO Gregg Curwin in an interview. “We’re partnering with a major food company so it’s really about scaling intelligently, and their brand is truly global, which is very appealing.”

TruLeaf aims to be a leader in sustainable agriculture through the use of vertical farming — which combines hydroponic technology with advancements in LED lighting and reclaimed rainwater to allow year-round production of plants indoors. Vertical farming is nearly 30 times more efficient than traditional agriculture, uses as much as 95 per cent less water, and takes up less land.

The company sells greens in Atlantic Canada under the GoodLeaf brand and has been working with Loblaw Companies, the parent of Atlantic Superstores. It will open the production facility in Guelph in the autumn, which means it will sell into Toronto. What Curwin has been speaking about more frequently in recent years is using artificial intelligence and data analytics to improve growing metrics and the nutritional content of the produce.

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That use of smart technologies meshes well with recent moves by McCain. Under the stewardship of startup and entrepreneurship program lead, Nestor Gomez, the company has been assembling a stable of startups that use digital technologies to improve food production and distribution. McCain has already invested in Fredericton-based Resson, which gathers and analyzes data from outdoor farms, and Moncton-based Fiddlehead Technology, which uses data to predict consumer demand for food. McCain has also worked with Fredericton-based internet-of-things company, Eigen Innovations, and now can add an indoor farming operation to its portfolio.

“We have worked closely with many research institutions, technology partners and of course, our global network of growers,” said McCain president and CEO Max Koeunein in the statement. “We remain committed to this approach and as such are always looking to partner with innovative businesses like TruLeaf to continue to set new standards for environmental care and efficient crop production, through advancing agricultural technology.”

TruLeaf, which last raised capital in an $8.5-million financing round in December 2016, will not seek more financing in the near future, said Curwin. The company now has 40 employees, which will rise to as many as 65 in the autumn with the opening of the Guelph farm. And Curwin said the partnership with McCain will accelerate the build out of its farms.

“This is really a pivotal move for us and the best part is it’s such a great East Coast story.”