London is home to two new websites offering a farmers’ market style service direct to the consumer’s front door. Produce Business UK looks at how this type of service could challenge the grip of the supermarkets and open up opportunities for producers
In recent years, farmers’ markets have, perhaps unfairly, attracted a reputation for being places to socialise rather than to do the weekly family grocery shopping.
One of the reasons for this is that they often only operate at weekends, and even then during specific windows of time. Arrive too late, and the chances are your favourite producer has been cleaned out of the goods you want.
Now, two websites are offering to bring the farmers’ market directly into the consumer’s home, but only if you live in London. The capital is where Farmdrop and more recent arrival, Bonativo are based, to allow customers to order online and receive delivery of their groceries at home within 48 hours.
Both sites are already considering expanding in the UK once they have perfected their operations in London and the southeast of England. Both are also serious about growing their customer base, and for that they are looking to add new producers to their businesses.
“We are always looking for more partners. We want to triple the number of products over the next two months, in order to give customers as much variety as possible,” says Anouska d'Abo, press relations manager for Bonativo.
“We would like to have mushrooms, avocados, all wild berries (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries), and rhubarb. We are passionate about seasonal fruits, so whatever is in season at that specific time.”
Bonativo was launched by co-founders Nigel Akehurst and Christian Eggert in Berlin and London this month (February). In the UK, it so far has the support of 50 producers, including Lincolnshire vegetable and salad producer Ted’s Veg and Isle of Wight suppliers The Tomato Stall and The Garlic Farm.
Farmdrop launched last year following a successful Crowdfunding initiative. CEO Ben Pattern says that in the last six weeks alone custom has been growing by 10% each week, and every day the firm is adding more numbers.
“We offer producers a very good deal,” says Pattern. “With Farmdop they get a better margin, between 70 and 80%, and this means for smaller producers it makes growing financially worth it.”
Pattern adds that the site offers a marketplace for growers who either do not wish to or cannot scale up their produce to supply supermarkets.
The way the Farmdrop model works is that rather than have lorries transporting produce around the UK from one or two distribution centres, all the food offered comes from local hubs.
Therefore in order to expand outside of London, Pattern says the company is looking at regional areas where there are sufficient numbers of producers, not just fresh produce but dairy, meat and bakery products, which can supply customers. Brighton and Bristol are both on the list as potential Farmdrop areas.
Pattern adds that the site is not just looking to traditional farmers for supply, but also urban operations too, and that the company is aware it will have to top up local offers with items that are not indigenous to the UK, such as oranges, in order to give customers as wide a range of groceries as possible.
He says: “Realistically we need to offer a broad range of products, however, we want to keep it as environmentally friendly as possible so that we’re not sending vast amounts up and down the country in big lorries.”
Currently Chegworth Valley supplies Farmdrop with organic citrus from its partner farm in Spain, as well as UK-grown produce. Chegworth, which is well known for its juices, has been rapidly increasing its range of whole fruits and vegetables in the last five years, and says this is now a significant contribution to its business.
The firm now grows over 70 different types of produce, which it sells through its own website and two London shops, as well as via wholesale direct to delis, restaurants, and caterers.
Marketing manager Vikki Right says selling through Farmdrop not only enabled Chegworth to reach more customers, but added to the company’s bottom line with little extra effort since a lot of the work such as picking and packaging was already taking place.
“It makes financial sense too,” she explains. “And as Farmdrop expands, we hope to grow the business with them. For us it’s also keeping up with customer trends – people love to shop at farmer’s markets but that’s not always practical. This provides them with an opportunity to buy direct from the producer.
“This is making sure we embrace every opportunity on the produce side, and it’s a great way to interact with the end user, the customer.”
Pattern agrees that Farmdrop customers thrive on the diversity of farmers’ markets, and says this is one of the unique offers of websites such as Farmdrop – that it can provide alternatives to the homogenous offer of supermarket chains.
Bonativo also sees itself not just as an alternative to supermarket shopping, but also a replacement for it. “The idea behind Bonativo is that we can replace the supermarket because we can provide all the same products,” says d’Abo.
“In addition, we can show you where the food has come from and how it was made or reared because we are platform for the producers to speak out about their food.
“We try to find partners who don't dispatch their produce through major supermarkets as we want to keep our products as unique and individual as possible. However, some of our partners do supply other wholesalers and supermarkets. They could realistically just run through our website as we continue to grow.”
With new routes to market opening up, consumers nationwide may no longer need to wait until the weekend for their fix of local produce.