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 email@example.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.