Having been invited to present at the TEDx Conference this Saturday the 6th of October, I put together a 5 minute talk about 'How Local is the Future of Food.'

Unfortunately my trip overseas to see family overlapped the preparation time for the speakers. Alas, I wasn't able to participate.

But, if I had been able to speak, it would have gone something like this...


Today, never before has so much of the worlds food supply been controlled by so few people, giving a handful of elite executives an incredible amount of power over the rest of us.

Along with this unprecedented vulnerability, our centralised food system also brings many other problems including...


1. major depletion of our soils and eco-systems caused by mega-scale monocrops.

2. the extreme carbon footprints caused by chemical fertilisers and extraordinary food miles.

3. a global disease epidemic caused by an overload of synthesized ingredients and preservatives.

4. malnourishment of near 1 billion people caused by the primary aim of the food industry being to make money, not to feed people.

But my talk today is not about what is wrong with centralised food.

Instead, I’m here to let you know that, thanks to technology, we can now short circuit centralised food and make local and cottage foods more affordable and convenient than going to the supermarket.

 

Just imagine what would happen if all of a sudden it was easier and more affordable to buy authentic local artisan foods than it was to buy massed produced synthetic foods.

Well, let me start by sharing an intriguing discovery I made about how the centralised food system actually works.

You see, a few years ago I was unknowingly helping to concentrate more power into fewer hands.

My role was to help a European multinational gain entry into the Australian market where it could start to dominate the sweet bread sector, and we were quite successful.

In a very short period of time we racked up sales over $1 million per month and took a lot of business away from many small and local patisseries around the country.

In doing this I gained a behind the scenes perspective of how the mainstream food game is really played.

Before I became a part of the system I had believed that supermarkets and mega chains were so big and successful because they somehow knew how to deliver “the Best Products at the Best Prices”.

What I discovered however was that the best products at the best prices often don’t even get considered for mainstream food outlets UNLESS they can also be produced in enormous quantities.  The reason for this is because it’s much cheaper to deal with one supplier than it is to deal with 100.


What this means on the chart below is that most shoppers get a choice of buying food supplied by the BIG BOYS only, even though it is often lower value for money.

The small dots in the meantime are sidelined and either scratch out a living at weekend farmers markets, or sell to boutique retails outlets.

 

Dots represent the different suppliers of a particular product or range.

The size of the dot represents the volume production capacity of the supplier.

So you see, we are missing out on many of the best products at the best prices when we shop at the mainstream outlets.

OK then, so why don’t we all just start buying from the little guys instead?

Well the answer is because it's not convenient.

Going to a farmers market on the weekend is a nice idea for some of us, but for most of us it’s just too much of a hassle.

So whilst ever the supermarkets and mega-food chains are more convenient we will just keep shopping with them even if its worse for us and our society.

Now
(he says with his eyes skyward and tapping his chin) if only we could find a way to make local and cottage food more convenient than going to the supermarket.

Because if we could buy from the little guys we would not only get better value for money but we would also be:

1. supporting local economies by increasing local employment and food production skills,
2. reducing our carbon footprint,
3. eating more natural ingredients, and
4. putting power back into the hands of the many.

But beating the BIG BOYS on both value and convenience just seems so overwhelming right? 

 

Well, I'm here to say that it can be done and it's simpler than you would imagine.

 

Remember how eBay turned the second hand goods industry on its head?

Now we are about to start using a similar concept to turn the food industry on its head.


You see, the market is ripe for this kind of disruption because as we speak there is a massive consumer migration from shopping in the stores to shopping online… for the sake of convenience.

 

This situation presents a new level playing field because when you're at your computer, buying local and cottage food can be just as convenient as buying mass produced products.

Therefore, what is needed is an online marketplace where a full variety of locally produced food is available from one place.

 

This is the very innovation that the team at Ooooby have been working on.


Ooooby is an acronym for Out of our own backyards and we have devised a way to make local and cottage food as easy and affordable as possible.

Starting here in Auckland we have been building a local food system prototype which has delivered over 16,000 boxes of local food to over 900 Auckland doorsteps.

Our customers are happy, our suppliers are delighted and so far we have been able to keep prices around 5% lower than normal retail prices.

To achieve this we run a super lean logistical system and keep things radically simple, like running our operation from a 20ft shipping container in a carpark for example and 
using our homes and backyards as office space.


Finally, we believe that the food marketplace (or trading platform) of the future needs to be free of individual ownership.  Therefore the Ooooby platform is being set up under a type of common ownership arrangement to keep it fair for everyone.

Local operators of Ooooby Hubs are private businesses that use the platform.  The platform itself stands on common ground.

We are ready to help launch the Ooooby model into new cities and towns, so if you would like Ooooby to happen in your area just drop an email to pete@ooooby.com

 

Now is our time to turn the tide, but it can only happen if enough of us get on board.  By making local food a priority you can help us make grocery shopping the easiest and most fun way to create a bright food future for our kids.  Thank you.

 

 

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Comment by Bailey Peryman on October 8, 2012 at 12:16pm

Pete, great talk - Ooooby is awesome, enough said!

Chris, Jessica, Pete - Re: a Christchurch set-up.  I am in the early stages of developing a vege-box for the Sumner-Redcliffs area (where I live) based on demand from elderly in Redcliffs and obvious socioeconomic mobility of Sumner demographic. Meeting with suppliers of Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market this weekend to discuss this further. Have had great guidance to date from Sam @ Bucky Box.
Contact me if you're keen! local_food@sumnercommunity.org.nz / 021 122 7638 / 326 6927

Comment by Bart Acres on October 7, 2012 at 8:59pm

Hi Pete, Great presentation, too bad that you didn't get to present it at the event but there will surely be many more chances to do that! I'm so stoked to see Ooooby growing by leaps and bounds and getting a local food ethos applied on the ground!

I wanted to let you and Shaun know that we do indeed have a local network here in Dunedin with a focus on supporting growth and improvement in local and sustainability orientated food systems here. It's called Foodweb and you can read about it at www.foodweb.org.nz, and I'd love to get your feedback on it! I founded Foodweb in late 2010 after completing my masters in food systems planning, and deciding that some real world action would probably be a lot more useful than a large brick of paper on a shelf somewhere, and so Foodweb was born out of some of the key findings of my thesis. This took some of the ideas I'd already developed in an urban context (see www.urbanorganics.org.nz) and begins to apply them at the farm scale / regional scale. 

We are in the process of developing a vege box delivery service and after two years of tinkering and development and a few small trial runs in the past two seasons, it's looking set to launch before the years end! The exact timing is slightly dependent on the weather as we've had a turn to cooler conditions of late and it may take a bit longer for the first crops to start coming through. 

The vege box will be running on a not-for-profit business model, meaning that the best possible prices can be given to both the producers and the customers, with only a small margin taken out in between to cover operating costs. We aim to use the vege box as a platform from which to encourage more people into growing crops for sale, by providing an easy and reliable way to sell bulk (or small amounts) of crops and get a good price for them. So if anyone reading this would like to get involved, check out our website www.foodweb.org.nz and get in touch! email is info@foodweb.org.nz 

We will also be hosting a local food forum here in Dunedin on the 11th of November for people who are involved in many different aspects of local food systems to come together and discuss the present and potential future directions of our local food systems, share their stories, connect with one another and identify key actions needed to build our future food systems. More info will be available soon, so contact us if you are interested in attending! Cheers, Bart

Comment by Pete Russell on October 3, 2012 at 8:10am

Good morning Shaun.  That all sounds great.  All we really need to get something going is a person or small team that would like to take the Ooooby model on in Dunedin as a local business.  If you know of anyone or if you're interested yourself just drop me an email at pete@ooooby.com

We don't have anyone in Dunedin yet but I would be happy to do a radio interview from up here if you like?

Comment by Shaun on October 3, 2012 at 7:56am

Good morning Peter. I am down here in Dunedin and have a business growing and selling leafy greens and herbs along with other seasonal produce such as chillies and peppers. I am always telling people how important it is to getting back to local produce and the benefits to our well being and the local economy. I would be very interested in talking to other people to see if we could replicate the box delivery system down here. I have some great contacts. I also have a gardening radio show and have just started writing a gardening column in the local paper, so if you can think of anyone down here that would like to come on the radio for a chat or one of you guys are down this way let me know. Cheers Shaun

Comment by Pete Russell on October 2, 2012 at 3:52pm

Always ready to talk about possibilities Chris.  How about dropping me an email to pete@ooooby.com and we can explore ideas.

Comment by Chris Heenan on October 2, 2012 at 3:37pm

I agree with Pete and Jessica re a core team of wonderful people. Action is the magic word. There could be three of us right here ready to explore the possibility????????????????????

Comment by Pete Russell on October 2, 2012 at 2:51pm

We would love for Ooooby to be in Christchurch Jessica.  All we need to get started in Christchurch is a core team of wonderful people ready to get the ball rolling.

It would need to comply with US laws but it could still work there I think.

Comment by Jessica Lunsford on October 2, 2012 at 2:17pm

I would love to have the ooooby box going in Christchurch. Such a great idea.

I wonder if this idea would work in the US where there are rediculous laws regarding health and hygene? You could basically get sued by anyone for not having the right legal stuff. It makes things like this quite challenging I would think. Its been years since I have been back there, but I am thinking about going back and would like to see more of the sustainability happening.

Comment by Pete Russell on October 2, 2012 at 12:36pm

Thanks Miles.  Yeah good feedback. In my talk I was going to say that Henry Kissinger has been credited with the quote.  But without that I see what you mean.

Comment by Miles Thompson on October 2, 2012 at 12:28pm

What an awesome talk!  Such a shame you didnt get to give it. i guess that just means that when you *do* give this talk it will be even more awesome and backed up by more of your exciting story! ;-)

One piece of hopefully constructive feedback, you may want to find a source for that Kissinger quote, or more realistically find a different quote. From what I can tell there is no evidence he ever said this. (FWIW it's listed on this page as "Unsourced: None of these quotes should be reinstated in the article unless a source is found." http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:Henry_Kissinger )

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