Selling the food hub way

  Winter 2017 - Selling the food hub way
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 So, what exactly is a food hub? A food hub is simply a central location where the products of several producers are brought together and offered for sale to a community of buyers. The product suppliers are often local, small-scale producers who specialize in one or two items, and benefit greatly from the wider exposure a food hub can offer.
The food hub operator acts as a coordinating partner between the producers and suppliers and their customers, coordinating the aggregation, warehousing, marketing and distribution of the products offered for sale. In this way, the food hub is able to house a larger supply of a variety of products which can satisfy year-round wholesale, retail and institutional market demand.

A food hub can have a real world location for patrons to visit and purchase in person, or it can exist as an online entity, where shoppers browse a selection of products from the comfort of their home computer, place and pay for their order online, and wait for the delivery truck to bring it directly to their door.

There are two general approaches to the operation of a food hub. The most ambitious model offers a comprehensive service that requires physical aggregation, grading, packing, sales, and delivery. In addition to the website, these food hubs will often have a warehouse and related infrastructure and equipment necessary for the storage and delivery of products.

Two local food hubs that follow this model are BC-based SPUD and Alberta’s The Organic Box.

The second model offers fewer physical services. The focus here is less on housing a large variety of product for sale, and more on coordinating a group of producers, a payment service and marketing and promotion of the food hub. CSAs (community supported agriculture) can fall into this category if there are multiple families within the CSA supplying product for the weekly baskets.

“Most food hubs are set up to be a profitable business enterprise to ensure long term sustainability,” says Margurite Thiessen, Value Chain Specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

“They have identified their customers and have tailored their product offerings to meet the market channel they have chosen to serve,” she says.

Most food hubs offer fresh vegetables and local fruits, along with other product categories including dairy, meats and shelf stable products like local grains and flours, teas, and other value-added products.

Some also offer non-local items that still fit the core values of the food hub. These are often products not offered locally, such as nuts, coffee or other special items.

What is the value for the small scale producer?

“A food hub provides the means for Alberta direct market producers and small scale food processors to get their products to market,” says Thiessen.

“Food hubs are key players in helping create consistent, reliable supplies of locally produced foods for customers in a given area,” she says.

When you collaborate in a food hub, your product is offered alongside others from the same area. This creates a price standard for similar items and maintains a level playing field for all.

Additional benefits of collaborating in a food hub are the peer to peer networking and development opportunities that can result. Not to mention that when people get together, great ideas can result, which can have a positive impact on the entire community.

How can I start a food hub?

First you would need to consider the feasibility of a food hub in your location.

Putting your food hub together comes after you determine the real market pull and financial feasibility. But today’s consumer is hungrier than ever for the fresh, local alternative, and a food hub is an efficient way to deliver the goods.

The next step is to establish and maintain good relationships with local growers, buyers and customers. And from there, the sky’s the limit.

Take Local Food Chicago for example, it began as an online food hub connecting Chicagoans to local growers and producers in the midwest, and has grown to include a fully operational market with executive chef experiences and a renowned butcher.

They have also partnered with two other Chicago-area businesses—Mighty Vine Tomatoes and Hand Cut Foods—to complement their food hub and offer even more options to their customers.

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry have developed two new publications to assist Alberta’s agriculture and food businesses with developing food hubs:

• Best Practices Guidebook – Food Hub Vendor Manual and

• Best Practices Guidebook – Food Hub Grower Manual.

The vendor manual summarizes basic operations, policies and procedures to help guide the vendor, or supplier, in meeting the demands of a food hub.

The grower manual is focused at helping the growers meet pre- and post-harvest standards required by the food hub and grower cooperatives, local food service establishments and other direct market customers.

Both resources are available online or in hard copy format through Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

Two local food hubs

The Organic Box is owned and operated by a local Edmonton farming family.

With over 40 team members in Alberta and a network of supporting farming families across western Canada, they work together to find ways to eat sustainably.

“We understand that organic food isn’t just about better flavour and nutrition,” says Danny Turner, President and Co-Founder.

The farmers that grow the food offered at The Organic Box do not use conventional agriculture techniques but rather use only those chemicals that are approved by the organic certifying body.

Following organic practices is believed to improve the quality of the soil with each crop and keep chemicals out of the soil and broader eco-system.

The Organic Box buys as close to home as possible. But they also define local by buying from people who act locally in their own communities—own their own land, hire local employees—with the money staying in those communities.

Founded in Vancouver in 1997, SPUD (Sustainable Produce Urban Delivery) now delivers local and organic groceries to homes and offices with six locations in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“In each location, we hire locally, buy locally, and deliver locally,” says Corbin Bourree, managing director for SPUD Edmonton.

SPUD is more than just an online grocery company. “We have a deep passion for local and organic food, and for supporting healthy families and communities. We are entrepreneurial, humble, driven, and we really love our customers,” says Bourree.

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Eileen Kotowich.
This information published to the web on February 24, 2017.