Waste is one of the biggest perils of the fresh produce industry. Trying to find a home for excess stock and unwanted produce before its condemned to landfill is one of the sector’s primary headaches. This makes the appearance on the scene of Takestock a momentous occasion for everyone involved up and down the supply chain
Takestock is a is a digital market for the food industry and focused initially on surplus inventory, ingredients and WIP inventory for private label manufacturers. And according to its CEO and founder, Campbell Murray, fresh produce is its next big area of focus and opportunity.
Following the site’s Android app launch with iOS due to launch at the end of November, Produce Business UK spoke to Murray about Takestock’s aims, its motivation and why the app makes perfect sense for the fresh produce sphere.
CM: Takestock.com was created to be an online trading platform to make it easy for owners of stock to sell their unwanted items and to find a buyer efficiently rather than turning to landfill as an option.
What are your aims?
CM: Every year in the UK, more than 600,000 tonnes of food is sent to landfill within the food manufacturing industry. This is worth around £1billion. Farming and fresh produce adds another £4bn in lost value. While a lot of that does have value, it's in the wrong place at the wrong time. We want to provide a platform for this to be reduced.
How does it work?
CM: If a grower or trader has surplus product, they sign up on the system (which is free). Once registered, they can list an item (for free) - this is a simple process of uploading photos and information. The seller stipulates the minimum quantity they wish to sell and declares the price they want per unit. The price is designated as ex-depot or transport-included (the site does provide some haulier options). The product is then live on the system for other users to see.
We alert any buyers who have expressed an interest in that item previously. Once an offer comes in, the seller is notified and they have the option to decline, accept or counter bid any offer.
After an offer is accepted, the buyer pays into our escrow account at Barclays. Once goods are signed for, the buyer has 24 hours to raise a dispute. If they don’t notify us, it is presumed all good and we close the sale down.
The seller then receives an invoice/receipt from us outlining the total value of the transaction minus our fees and VAT (we charge 15% of what a seller receives plus VAT). We then deposit the balance into their account within five days. For the fresh produce category only, we offer a subsidised rate of 8% commission. This reflects the lower margins and hopefully repeat nature of the sector.
How has it been received in the industry?
CM: Very well. We have had over 26,000 unique users on Takestock and over 1,000 active registered companies use us. We also work with some of the big supermarkets that see us as a partner to assist their suppliers. DEFRA, environmental consultancies, thought leaders and VCs who target this sector have all taken interest in what we are doing.
Broadly there are three main categories of buyer:
• Independent manufacturer: Typically entrepreneurial, sustainability focused niche manufacturers (includes bakers). Owner can respond to opportunity. Canny buyers who want a deal.
• Caterer and restaurant: Owner operated. Often street-food and new-segment focused. Mobile caterers (events and festivals) juice bars, central kitchen units, world buffets, soup, jam and chutney makers, processors, manufacturers, veg box schemes, sustainable restaurants, greengrocers, market stall. Tend to be younger, chef-driven (Gen Y). Not contract catering but free to flex menus.
• Food Trader: Owner operated. Tend to be old school bulk buy and break down specialists selling to local community. Very price driven.
How has it gone so far?
CM: The reaction from people has been really pleasing. People acknowledge this is a huge problem area and view this as a comprehensive answer.
Why fresh produce?
CM: Fresh produce is the most searched for category on Takestock (about 40%) and we know there is a strong market of buyers out there keen to trade directly with growers and distributors. The farming sectors in the UK can often enjoy a strong harvest with high yields, that means a lot of surplus produce that will end up in animal feed, AD or landfill. Takestock helps farmers reach the marketplace direct – especially to caterers, niche food manufacturers and the hospitality trade.
So is it an eBay for the food industry?
CM: Before eBay, selling the clutter from one's garage was a challenge with a small number of local buyers at best. Now a national audience can be reached in seconds. We believe this is the same for the food industry and the solution to distribute unwanted food stock is Takestock. We focus on trading for you and helping you turn unwanted stock into cash. We are not an auction site but more an offer-based brokering service. The auction model wouldn't work b2b and with breakdown of quantity a key issues, a bid system is a much better fit.
Have you worked alongside wholesale markets, individual growers, or both?
CM: It started as a digital marketplace to move surplus stock but quickly it is becoming a new sales channel for people that want to market their product further afield. We expect the system to be appealing to everyone in the sector – growers and wholesalers. We had a great example recently; a Lancashire grower had excess broccoli. Before leaving it to become wasted product, and to make sure they would make the most of it, they decided to list their product on Takestock. In the meantime an independent manufacturer in Kent was looking for fresh broccoli for its air-dried vegetable crisps. The product went on the site, an offer was made and accepted and two pallets were sent down within a matter of days. Problem solved for both parties and the grower got a great price as they had sold directly to a user.
Who do you think it will appeal most to in the fruit and veg sector? Wholesalers? Independent retailers? Supermarket buyers?
CM: Farmers/growers, wholesalers and market traders from a selling perspective and from a buying perspective independent retailers and caterers. It’s about giving the farmers a chance to reach a bigger market and fresh produce traders to widen beyond physical footfall. My hypothesis with this latter group is that whilst they have a well-established customer base, there are people not able or willing to come into the all-night markets and would rather buy from Fresh Direct or another distributor.
How many users do you have?
CM: We have had over 26,000 users on Takestock looking for deals in the last year. We think that's the biggest market in Europe for you to sell your surplus inventory, safely, securely and with the best chance of reaching market value on your stock.
How many users do you hope to have?
CM: Well there are roughly 100,000 food outlets and companies in the UK and about 1million across Europe. We would like them all to be aware of Takestock and on the site, naturally.
Critical mass is more by sector. For example with fresh produce we need about five active traders from the three London markets (so 15 in total). If they are putting up daily content, we are confident the retail, catering and hospitality sectors in the home counties would be very interested in this. We are working with a number of organisations to get the message into the London and Home Counties catering sectors, as well as our broad base of users, but the first step is to get fresh produce traders to list inventory on a recurring basis.
You were at the London Produce Show and Conference did you make some good contacts there?
CM: Definitely. We've recently concluded a deal with someone we met at the show. They had some surplus pickled products in jars that were short dated so they listed with us. We had a trader that bought the whole lot within a week of listing.
What is your background?
CM: I have spent the last 16 years of my career in tech and mobile and in most of my roles I have held strategic corporate development remits so I guess you could say I have been an ‘intrapreneur’. Over the last six years in particular I have been working with lots of tech start-up companies and still sit on the board of two others. So I have sat in every seat around the start-up table except the hot seat. Until now. Takestock is my first time leading a start up in the CEO/founder role – representing the company, raising investment, managing operations, business development, marketing, tech development etc. There are lots of hats to wear and it’s very challenging, but, ultimately, it’s a fun place to be.
What does the future hold for Takestock?
CM: We want to become the b2b trading platform for the food industry end to end. Initially we are UK-focused but increasingly attracting international customers. Alibaba did this for electronics vendors in China and we think there are similarities in food. The sheer size of the food-waste problem means there is a great opportunity for an efficient marketplace to enable sellers and buyers to trade easily.