As supply chain issues became increasingly common during the early, and even later months of the COVID-19 pandemic, many retailers had to rely on local producers to fill shelves. In addition, with a renewed focus on health and wellness, fresh and local food became more important than ever to consumers. Because of this, 2020 saw the launch of several hyper-local focused retailers and initiatives.
Detroit-based Peddler, formerly known as Wing It, began last March as a partnership between Eastern Market Brewing Co. and its experimental arm, Ferndale Project. The purpose of the delivery service was to create a way to get the companies’ food and beverage offerings to the community without having to rely on third-party services like UberEats and DoorDash.
In early November, Peddler expanded its platform to include a larger selection of products from local producers like Mongers Provisions, Bon Bon Bon, Ashe Supply Co, Slow Jams, Beau Bien Fine Foods, Tov Bagel, Nakee Butter, as well as Ferndale Project and Eastern Market Brewing Co. Peddler plans to introduce one or two new purveyors to the site each week.
“I believe the pandemic has definitely placed a higher emphasis on sourcing local and supporting local,” president and co-founder Shamus Cook told SFA News Daily. “The market has been moving in this direction for some time now. Whether that be supporting your local farmers’ market to source fresh vegetables and goods, to supporting your local brewery or taproom. The sense of community that has been growing over the last few years in local economies has hit hypergrowth during the pandemic.”
Peddler works differently than the third-party apps that it competes with. According to Cook, Peddler partners with local organizations and purchases their product wholesale to sell and promote on the Peddler marketplace. “Our goal is to offer their product to a larger audience, and deliver to their doors in under an hour,” he said. “We ensure all of our partners products are delivered in the same exact form as far as quality goes from when we picked it up at their store. Quality assurance and partner relationships are what we are built from.”
Thousands of miles away in California, Buffalo Market, which bills itself as a virtual farmers’ market, launched in October with the goal of not only offering fresh, local food, but also reducing food waste.
Offerings range from dairy and eggs to fruits and vegetables, and dry groceries to household products like trash bags and dish detergent.
Shoppers place orders one day in advance, giving Buffalo Market the opportunity to order an exact amount of food from local producers, keeping food exceptionally fresh and keeping waste to a minimum. Currently, the service delivers in San Francisco and Sacramento.
“Buffalo Market’s mission is to fundamentally transform the American grocery by focusing on freshness,” said Buffalo Market CEO Adam Olejniczak, in a statement. “Improving existing grocery store models by focusing on farm freshness may sound like it increases costs, but it actually does the opposite.”
Retailers Improve Local Sourcing
“Today, sourcing local food as a wholesaler or retailer is complex, manual, and very inefficient,” said Joe Blunda, CEO of Forager, a Portland, Maine-based startup that connects local food producers with retailers through its online platform. Forager’s platform is a win-win for both retailers and farmers; grocers ensure consumers have increased access to fresher food and local producers can offer their product to a wider audience.
Blunda told SFA News Daily, “During the pandemic, this has been especially helpful to the many farmers who used to route their product to restaurants, schools, and other large institutions that were suddenly required to shut down in March. Farmers shouldn’t have to worry about growing their crop and managing the supply chain. Forager has alleviated the backend requirements and helped them reroute their product to new buyers without letting anything go to waste.”
Recently, Forager began partnering with Massachusetts-based chain Roche Bros. Supermarkets to expand its local food offerings. Blunda explained, “By using our platform, Roche Bros. is able to move away from the traditional fragmented manual buying process to a more connected, digital, and streamlined process. All Roche Bros. locations have access to real-time data on local suppliers – including inventory, past orders, and sales – so that store teams can manage sourcing and optimize their local buying programs.”
Big Y World Class Markets, another Massachusetts-based retailer, is also attempting to bring more focus to local producers with its MassGrown Exchange initiative. The business-to-business platform connects farmers, fishers, food buyers, and agriculture-related businesses and helps them exchange and find products and services across the state.
The first batch of local producers include New Entry Sustainable Farming Project from Beverly, Tanuk Inc./Meal Mantar from Newton, Giuseppe Argentieri Mozzarella House from Peabody, Hager’s Farm Market from Shelburne Falls, Elizabeth Mulholland Valley View Farm from Topsfield, Field Point Oyster farm from Wellfleet, Alicia’s Homemade Sauces and Spice Co. from Worcester, and Just a Mere Tree Farm from Worthington.
Local Focus is Here to Stay
Even though the pandemic accelerated the need and consumer desire for local food, it doesn’t look like it will go away anytime soon.
“Now that consumers see the importance of supporting businesses and the emotional attachment has formed, it will only grow from here,” said Cook. “I think the value consumers are seeing not only from getting superior products, but from helping small, local businesses survive will cause them to seek out more and more local companies and products. We at Peddler are very excited for the growth potential, and to continue to help small, local companies grow through the pandemic, and beyond.”
Forager’s Blunda agreed. “Throughout the height of the pandemic, consumer behavior shifted quickly and overwhelmingly to farm direct purchasing. In fact, this is likely a generational and cultural scale shift. Ninety-six percent of shoppers agree that local food is the freshest, healthiest, most nutritious, and safest food possible. The desire for local food is here to stay.”
He also added a piece of advice for retailers: “We aren’t seeing an intensification of existing pre-pandemic consumer preferences, we are seeing a transformation in consumer perception of food. Some of the resulting trends may look the same, but the underlying motivations and expectations—the entire mindset and foundation—is completely different.”