Local food movements are booming the world, but it’s not your grandfather’s farm. The Slow Food movement, which came about as a way to promote sustainable agriculture, is getting a boost from millennial ingenuity. Entrepreneurs are turning their attention to improving the way consumers connect with farmers.
There is a growing consumer demand for products with personality. The USDA has been tracking the growth of farmers markets for the past two decades. Since 1994, there’s been a fourfold increase, and in the past year alone, the list of farm markets has gone up 3.6 percent. The popularity of the Whole Foods grocery chain is another sign that small batch, high touch products are increasingly in demand in the United States. Whole Foods’ revenue has grown by a billion dollars a year for the past three years running.
Combine high tech with slow food and you’ve got a new global movement. Big farm agriculture technology, or AgTech, has been around for quite some time. But the small producers can also take advantage of computer driven agriculture.
The newest worldwide food tech trend is designed to both safeguard and revive local food systems. Sensors and software helps farmers boost output and streamline operations, and online marketplaces, sort of a fruit and vegetable version of Etsy, connect farmers and food artisans directly with consumers. The Fruitguys, for example, offer nationwide door-to-door delivery of organic fruit. Take that, Harry and David.
The movement has also caught on in Italy, where investors have helped to launch Rural Hub, a business incubator designed to offer rural startups mentorship, research and links to funding sources. And if you like wine, check out Goodmakers, a website that showcases small vineyards and offers bottles at reasonable prices.
According to Franchise Gator, venture capitalists are making big investments in comestibles (that’s a fancy word for food). For example, a number of small batch coffee roasters are getting major attention. A group that includes tech magnates Tony Conrad, partner at True Ventures and Google Ventures, and Twitter co-founder Evan Williams bought a $20 million controlling stake in Bay Area roaster Blue Bottle Coffee.
Common Market, a Philadelphia based operation that connects local farmers with institutional kitchens, such as schools, hospitals and workplaces, was founded by two business school graduates of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The team recently received a $2 million grant from the Kellogg Foundation and a $350,000 line of credit from RSF PRI Fund, which invests in socially responsible businesses.
Todd Masonis, who was one of the founders of Plaxo, has moved on to found the boutique candy company Dandelion Chocolate. He sees the field as ripe for disruption, as consumers move away from mass market, low quality products.