These days, consumers want to know everything about their food. That includes not just what’s in it and who made it, but also how it got from the farm to your table and if all ethical and/or sustainability standards were upheld along the way. This appetite for transparency, along with an increasing desire to shop and eat local, seems like it’d be a huge opportunity for small-batch producers and other food entrepreneurs.
And it is. It just happens to be a risky one, too. Landing your products on the shelves of, say, Whole Foods, doesn’t mean they’ll automatically sell, or sell enough to justify the high costs of distribution. One small mistake, like poor packaging, could send sales plummeting, and unlike large CPGs with deep pockets, most independent food companies can’t just turn around and try again.
Online food marketplace Farm to People‘s goal is to help these smaller companies mitigate that risk and at the same time provide consumers with an easy way to find small-batch foods whose origins are highly transparent.
CEO Michael Robinov co-founded the Brooklyn-based business four and a half years ago with his father, David Robinov, a longtime food entrepreneur. The latter, who opened his first retail outlet for food in 1980, now acts as a mentor to Farm to People as well as other small companies still learning the ropes of running a business.
“We want to create a marketplace online that feels human to human, that excites people in a way that it used to when you knew the clerk and knew the butcher,” says Michael Robinov over the phone.
Obviously, as he points out, this doesn’t mean connecting users directly to the folks in the kitchen (although some version of that may be possible down the line). Rather, the company’s mission is about unique finds not necessarily in stores (even Whole Foods), helping the “shop local” movement, and making it easy to find and understand all ingredients involved in the process.
The site currently has over 700 products for sale, each of them rigorously vetted by Farm to People to ensure they’re on par with the company’s own standards: small batch, non-GMO, humanely raised, and free of artificial ingredients. It also offers gift boxes, weekly subscription boxes, recipes, and recommendations.
For businesses, Robinov sees his company as a logical stepping stone for food producers on their journey to the the larger retailers. Lack of sales, he explains, could be something as simple as the wrong kind of packaging. If a brand learns that after pouring all its money into a Whole Foods deal, chances are, it won’t have any cash left to create new packaging. With a site like Farm to People, there’s inherently less risk, not to mention more opportunities to be seen by consumers, since no one’s vying for shelf space in a physical store.
Farm to People puts a lot of work into helping these companies with the discovery issue. Since we’re talking about an online marketplace, handing out physical samples isn’t possible. Robinov and Co. make up for that through other promotional avenues, from Google ads and Instagram images to giving out products nearing their expiration date as free gifts for paying customers.
In the future, Robinov hopes to branch out in terms of connecting companies with an ideal customer base. One idea is to create member emails, where those interested can email the product maker through the Farm to People platform. He also wants to do virtual maker demos where Farm to People visits different companies’ kitchens and catches the food makers in action on video. He hopes to do “things you can relate to more than just a picture of jam.”
“We just want to be a resource for people,” he adds. “That’s the whole point of this. Both from the maker and user standpoint. We’re all in this together. We’re all taking the risk, from the maker to us to you, everybody is getting on board with something new and exciting.”