As if helping reinvent the restaurant weren’t enough, Chipotle is now trying to digitize the farmers’ market concept. Today, the fast casual chain announced the Chipotle Virtual Farmers’ Market, which gives the company’s suppliers a chance to sell their good directly to consumers via e-commerce.
Four suppliers are currently selling their wares through those online storefronts now: Niman Ranch, Petaluma Creamery, McKaskle Family Farm and Meister Cheese. Each Chipotle supplier gets their own online storefront through which it can sell meat, dairy, grain, and other items (grits!). Chipotle said in today’s press release it is covering hosting fees for the sites (which are powered by Shopify) for two years and “assisting with the development” of the sites.
A quick scan through the shops turns up both items you’d find in a Chipotle burrito (pork, rice, Monterrey Jack cheese) and other food staples (grits!) for the home pantry.
For consumers, the shopping experience is much like any other e-commerce site out there, and, for those inclined, another way to support small farms. Chipotle making these supplies available to consumers is also an extension of something we saw during the pandemic, when restaurants sold inventory directly to consumers in the midst of panic buying sprees.
No one is panic buying at the moment, but this new virtual farmers’ market powered by a major restaurant chain is another example of the blurred lines happening right now between the restaurant and the grocery store. And with the trajectory of the pandemic uncertain, some restaurants look to be riding this restaurant-as-a-market wave for the foreseeable future.
More importantly, selling directly to consumers is a way for farmers to gain more revenue at a time when the pandemic has crippled sales that would ordinarily be got from in-person farmers’ markets, restaurants, and other traditional channels. Whether tied to a major foodservice brand or no, small farms are currently encouraged to take advantage of selling directly to consumers online in order to build resilience. Judging by the state of the pandemic this week, that resilience will be needed in the near future.