John de Jonge wants CubicFarms back on the “path to profitability”
The interim president and CEO of the noteworthy agtech company is tasked with guiding it back to industry leadership.
“You might be aware that I have had senior leadership roles in several agricultural businesses,” John de Jonge, CubicFarms’ interim president and CEO, tells Vancouver Tech Journal in an email. That sentence had a bit of a 1980s sitcom trailer feel to it. I read it with saxophone playing in my head, a sweeping B-roll shot of a skyline giving way to credits and a smiling de Jonge: You may remember John de Jonge from Artex Barns, which delivered the smash hits the Comfort Zone FreeStall System and Bib-Box dairy design.
Very much in the present, the agtech stalwart now finds himself in an interesting position at the head of local darling CubicFarms – a company that has undoubtedly had a notable run of late.
Proceedings reached a crescendo in October 2021. CubicFarms ushered in a new era for the company and the agtech space with an event coined Agtech Amplified. Within a matter of weeks, the landscape of the business started to change drastically. The disastrous flooding in November across B.C.’s Fraser Valley affected the backyard of the Langley-based company.
As the year ticked over to 2022, there were some wins. CubicFarms announced $1.26 million and $5.15 million in sales in January and March respectively. By the summer, it had struck a major deal on Vancouver Island when NTE Discovery Park agreed to not only purchase 26 CubicFarms modules for $4.4 million, but to manufacture them in Campbell River too.
At the time, then-CEO Dave Dinesen said the NTE deal was the start of a symbiotic partnership between the two companies that allows CubicFarms to boost production, and enables NTE to diversify its oil and natural gas operations.
But, drastic changes occurred at the leadership level as the year headed toward the fall, including the departures of Dinesen and president Edoardo de Martin. On October 24, De Jonge was named interim president and CEO. I had attended Agtech Amplified, watched the rain pound off the roof of my house in Langley, noted the sales, and then found myself shocked by the C-suite changes. CubicFarms seemed to grow alongside my own journey at Vancouver Tech Journal and I wanted to get a read on the company I thought I knew.
That’s how I found myself with the emailed insights from de Jonge. As his muzak-backed introduction points out, de Jonge has a rich history in agriculture. He was raised on a dairy farm in Pitt Meadows, which surely influenced his professional pursuits. In 1995, he bought the aforementioned Artex. He led the company through various investments, pivots, and milestones over the next several decades until ultimately selling it to an investment company in 2021.
Towards the end of that tenure with Artex, de Jonge left CubicFarms’ board. The exec was a founding member of the company’s guiding body and integral to the original acquisition of HydroGreen in 2019. But, he continued providing counsel in a different capacity by joining CubicFarms’ newly-formed HydroGreen Business Advisory Board. This would explain why de Jonge was writing from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
On paper, that’s a bizarre locale. Who wants to go to South Dakota in January? But the city is HydroGreen’s headquarters, and thus a place of importance to both him and CubicFarms. When I asked de Jonge to fill me in on his return, I was pleasantly surprised to find he was experiencing a full-circle moment.
Perhaps that plays a part in him sharing that he feels “it was the right time to come back to the company.” De Jonge details that he is very happy to be back working with its incredible talent. “My goal is to help CubicFarms and HydroGreen accelerate our path to profitability, especially for our Feed Division,” he said, highlighting the automated system the company developed to feed livestock.
One path, it seems, is partnerships. CubicFarms lent its expertise to Winnipeg’s TheoryMesh for a project that the Canadian Food Innovation Network (CFIN) is funding to the tune of CAD $1.2 million. TheoryMesh’s co-founder and CEO Chris Bunio approached CubicFarms about the opportunity through CFIN’s Food Innovation Challenge, as both a friend of the company and a former colleague of then-CEO De Martin.
“We’re really excited about this collaboration,” de Jonge says. “HydroGreen has a fantastic research program where we are continually learning about the health, nutrition, and performance benefits of feeding beef and dairy cows our sprouted grains.”
As a whole, though, the finances have been nervy. In its most recent quarterly breakdown, CubicFarms reported revenue for the nine months ending September 30, 2022 at $3.5 million, compared to $4.5 million in the prior year. Net losses for the time period were $30.5 million, compared to $18.1 million. The company also sold off USD $1 million of its shares in December. The proceeds will be used for debt reduction purposes.
De Jonge will lean on his experience in agriculture and partnerships to reach that goal of profitability. It might be a long road, but the path to success seems baked into the DNA of CubicFarms. At Agtech Amplified, a quote that stuck with me came from a farmer. “All farmers need hope,” he said. Thanks to local-chain agtech, the company’s industry-defining approach, “we have hope,” he concluded. Now, it appears CubicFarms needs a little of its own. It’ll be up to de Jonge to cultivate that feeling.
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