Locally sourced food is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. The challenge is that retailers can’t meet the growing demand with the existing crop of supply chain solutions. Maine-based startup Forager is here to change that, connecting grocers with local farmers who have what consumers want.
David D. Stone, Forager CEO and founder, is a successful serial technology entrepreneur. The father of five took a break after his last endeavor and spent 79 days traveling the world by himself. The experience had a profound effect. “I decided to turn my attention to something that made a difference,” Stone says.
During his travels, Stone noted the food industry’s tremendous effects on so many aspects of life. His home base of Portland, Maine, has a long tradition of farming and local food, and Stone is accustomed to seeing small farms play a big role in the food scene, a concept he says is making a resurgence.
“There’s a desire to have a different lifestyle and to get back to the way things were before big agriculture dominated the landscape in America,” he says.
Through visits to farmers’ markets and discussions with local, independent grocers, he discovered the disconnect between suppliers and retailers. “It became clear to me that it’s very hard to source locally, even though consumer demand for it is through the roof,” he says. That’s where Forager’s technology comes into play.
Traditional infrastructure can support relationships between a grocer and one or two distributors. Working with 20 or more local suppliers is problematic to manage in the current system. “It’s phone calls, emails, manual paper invoices,” Stone says. “And there’s no data. There are no standard SKUs, no standard naming conventions.”
It’s not only inefficient — it also doesn’t scale. Unless a retailer is deeply committed to the local food economy, few will try to make these multiple relationships work.
“We had to find a way to make it much easier for buyers at the grocery store to remove the cost and the friction,” he says.
At its core, Forager is a business-to-business ecommerce platform, but it goes beyond that. The software puts all of a grocer’s independent suppliers into a single system. Using Forager, they can list the products they have available, delivery dates for each item, prices — everything a retailer needs to get fresh, local food into their store. Forager also encompasses meat, dairy, local packaged goods and artisanal products.
“Grocers can go on the platform on Sunday night or whenever they do their ordering and see what’s available, drop them in the shopping cart and place their order,” Stone says. The entire process is done digitally, with electronic invoicing and even messaging capabilities, so buyers and farmers can quickly communicate about supply levels and settle payments for orders.
Retailers ask their independent farm suppliers to join Forager, a strategy that addresses the lack of adoption other software solutions have encountered.
“We rely on the grocer to invite the farms, and then we have an onboarding process and a very simple web app where they can put their products online and update them from their phone, their computer, etc.,” Stone says. “We are the digital pipeline for local food, where we connect thousands of farms with hundreds of buyers.”
Using this approach, local food becomes more accessible to everybody. As the platform evolves, Stone sees numerous opportunities to build out new features and functionality. He points to a desire for increased transparency around how long a food item sits in a warehouse before delivery, for example. Other tech-driven capabilities may also be on the horizon.
“As we begin to collect data, we’ll be able to build the tools to match supply and demand like never before,” Stone says.