The Internet has given us access to the world. It has brought us in touch with those across the globe, it has told us about places far away, it has shown us new experiences. But now it is facilitating our return to going local.
The communication is somehow different, but businesses like US-based Good Eggs, the British platforms Farm Drop and Bonativo are bringing back consumer’s engagement with farmers by allowing the purchase of fresh local produce online.
These are three examples of new online markets selling what once consumers would get from their markets or nearby farms.
“Why should you go further to get what you already have?” asks e-commerce expert Irena Chloé Angelov. She believes this is a logical change in consumer behavior: “A few decades ago everything was about going out there, exploring, trying exotic fruits – in the 1980s avocados and all those foods you wouldn’t normally see were hugely popular. Now we’re going back to basics. So, first you explore and then you go back to see what’s around you.”
Irena points out to the example of Copenhagen based Michelin star restaurant Noma, where Scandinavian seasonable vegetables are the stars of their dishes.
Mind the Waste
According to the Food and Agriculture Program, some 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted or lost globally per year – that’s a third of food produced for human consumption annually. These online markets could help reduce these figures because they demand more planning on the consumer’s part: fresh produce is not always available or, to keep its carbon footprint to a minimum, transport may not be organized on a daily basis. “We’ve been spoiled,” says Irena. “We’re used to getting bananas and all these things we can’t get locally whenever we want them.” She adds there’s a mindset change that still needs to occur when planning the meals ahead, or measuring expectations.
But that is already under way, according to Amsterdam based mustard producer Kevin Corcoran. “People are more aware of their health. McDonalds was cool in the 1990s but now we’re paying more attention to what we eat and we’re paying more for food.”
Cutting the Mustard
Kevin is part of a new wave of farmers and producers willing to bring part of the food production and consumption back to basics. According to Irena, this new generation goes hand in hand with the trend to source locally.
The first time Kevin Corcoran made mustard it didn’t go that well. “It was awful,” he recalls, “But I could taste flavors and layers different from the normal mustard. So I gave it another try and another and I finally got the hang of it.” The result is the local brand Nieuwe Mosterd, which boasts six different flavors of mustard.
As an art-director and graphic designer, Kevin had no ambition of being a chef, farmer or producer. But his mustards soon became successful among his friends and from there to making it a business was a logical step. Together with his childhood friend Dimitri Mathijs, they have been producing the mustard out of Kevin’s kitchen and more recently they’ve been using the kitchen of a local restaurant to facilitate in the production of their average 400 jars a month. “We have a few jars left in stock, but usually everything we make we sell.”
Small steps, big changes
Small scale local production still means higher prices which do not compete with larger conventional supermarkets. Kevin is aware his mustard will never be sold at massive numbers, but that is also not part of his ambition.
Irena believes local sourcing has to become more convenient in order to attract bigger crowds: “Same day delivery is something that needs to happen.” But she is certain prices would go down with demand and by shortening the logistical chain (having consumers buying directly from farmers).
Irena and Kevin don’t believe local sourcing of fresh produce should be the only way to go. They see it as a consumers’ choice they believe makes sense for those who are looking into learning more about their food, its origins and its producers. And as Kevin adds, it’s about guaranteeing quality too: “Every jar that leaves my house I’m guaranteeing this is a mustard I’d eat myself. Farmers and small producers stand by their products. We’re proud of what we make and want to produce the best.”