In this season of thanks, Local Orbit is grateful for, and thrilled to support, the progress we’re seeing as we work with our customers to reshape local food economies.
The foundation of Local Orbit is our “listening architecture.” We’ve created a platform that enables us to listen to customers, listen to the market, and respond by adjusting and adding tools and services to support the rapidly evolving needs of new food economy businesses.
We’ve just released two new plans that support both individual food producers and growing distribution businesses that need more granular features to manage their operations. Read on for more details about our updated offerings.
We’ve seen local food distribution businesses mature over the last few years, and we’re releasing new tools that will add significant capacity to support them. New features that increase efficiency and offer greater control include:
- Advanced Ordering options (Order Templates for buyers to create and save orders, ability to create orders from past orders)
- Granular market fees, per product & per category
- Regular product importing and updating via .csv spreadsheet
- Route Planning
- Advanced Inventory Designations (ability to designate inventory to individual customers)
- Additional Delivery Cycles (bi-weekly, monthly by day and monthly by date)
If you’re a current Local Orbit customer, you can lock in discounted pricing for the Accelerate Plan by January 31. ($1999 for the first year – a 33% discount!)
*Payment for the Accelerate Plan must be received by 5pm EST Jan 31, 2017 to lock in $1999/year price. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
As local food markets have evolved, we’ve talked with many individual farmers and food makers who are managing direct sales and deliveries through third party services, or fulfilling orders on their own. In some cases they don’t have access to a food hub or market. In other cases, producers have a mix of sales channels that they need to manage. Up to now, a producer selling through a Local Orbit market needed an account through a food hub to get the benefits of the Local Orbit platform. No more!
Farmers and food makers can create an online market to unify all their sales channels, whether they’re selling direct or through a Local Orbit powered market. Manage orders, financials, inventory, fulfillment and reporting, while maintaining an audit trail of activity to comply with traceability and food safety requirements. Use your data to improve production planning and evaluate product performance. For only $39.
Interested in either the Accelerate or Producer plan? Check out the complete Feature List and Pricing or contact us at email@example.com.
To learn about other Local Orbit services, check out our updated web site.
Diana is the founder and director of the Good Natured Family Farms’ alliance. Founded by farmers for farmers, the alliance aggregates products from 125 suppliers around Kansas City and provides it to CSA and wholesale customers. Diana will join us for Transparency, Collaboration & Shared Value in Local Food Economies Nov 7-9 in Ann Arbor, MI.
Diana also farms with her husband Gary on Rainbow Organic Farm, a 400-acre organic and 400-acre transitional farm in southeast Kansas. She is a recipient of the National Agriculture Hall of Fame’s Honor Acre and the SBIR Tibbetts Award.
We had the opportunity to discuss the organic growth of their business, initially by highlighting the difference in quality between their tomatoes and commodity tomatoes, and then using partnerships and existing infrastructure to market expand opportunities for other growers.
How did you begin aggregating food from other producers?
Well, it really just organically happened over the last 15 years. We were here at the farm raising greenhouse tomatoes, and we had an overproduction for the market we had nearby. We had a really good relationship with one of the country stores, and then one day I went there and they had a sale that they wanted us to meet. But we would have lost money on it. My husband basically said we should just throw them away rather than take the deal, because it’s not the same quality product and we’re not in the commodity business. We never sold to that market again, and we had all of these tomatoes.
My sisters lived about an hour away in Kansas City, and I asked them where they shopped. I had no background in marketing. I went to a Hen House store owned by Balls Foods with a box of product and found the produce manager. I just walked in and told them about our tomatoes, and he took one bite and said we’ll take all you have. I thought gosh, this is easy.
We put up 6 greenhouses to meet their demand. We were servicing all of their stores and then they started supporting us by doing all the delivery their central warehouse. During that time, everyone knew we were growing the tomatoes and getting them in the stores. Someone called up asking if we could get their honey in the same stores, and after a blind taste test Balls bought it and the honey was the fastest selling honey in four weeks.
So, that’s how it happened and we started bringing everything together and it was about working directly with the store and keeping the farmers calling. We had no infrastructure or ordering mechanisms except calls and emails. Now we work with 125-150 producers and we have about 100 SKUs.
How did you decide to dedicate the resources to moving this beyond a startup?
We started out just trying to cover our costs since we were profitable with sales from our own products. Before Balls Foods started supporting us, we had no resources and our margins were so small, because the idea was to get the farmers what they needed. So, when we started using Balls’ central warehouse that was our early distribution infrastructure. They store a lot of our products for us even for other projects we do, but initially we were just selling to their 30 stores. Why would we build any infrastructure when we had that?
When we started working with produce growers we realized we had too much product. And we realized we needed to sell to more grocery stores, but that we didn’t have any infrastructure and we didn’t want to sell to Ball’s competitors since they’d been so generous and supportive. Around that time, Sysco Kansas City contacted us and they didn’t sell much to grocery stores but focused on institutions. We were also able to use their infrastructure. We knew how to use other folks’ infrastructure to get what we needed done.
Now that’s changing, since we’ve grown and for longevity of the project if something happened to me we need a plan to continue it. So, we’re in the beginning stages of purchasing an existing building with a lot of freezer and cooler space that will be our own distribution center. This will be operated under our non-profit called the Food Conservancy.
What have been challenges to this growth?
Being able to afford the resources, the man-hour resources, to manage everything that needs to be managed while also moving forward before you’re generating enough income. That gap in growth and personnel can be very stressful for your management team. There are two of us managing the Kansas City effort and they we have other folks doing very specific jobs. In some ways that’s good, because you have the depth to understand what works and what doesn’t, but eventually that has to change.
What are the lessons you have to share for others doing this?
We went with the model where you can partner with existing infrastructure and move your food through partnerships, which has the advantage of no money upfront, but it’s limiting. We really needed to have a for-profit and a non-profit structure. The for-profit is the driving force growing the business, while the non-profit handles the training, the outreach, the marketing – all the things that have to be done but that are inefficient for the business to do. We can bring really good product to the marketplace and get good returns to the farmers, but it’s hard to support the training and marketing just through the for-profit’s sales.
You’ll have the opportunity to work directly with Diana, along with a stellar group of supply chain innovators, at Local Orbit’s workshop, Transparency, Collaboration & Shared Value in Local Food Economies, November 7-9. Apply now!
East Quad, University of Michigan
University of Michigan Dining Director Steve Mangan leads one of the nation’s largest college dining operations, including nine dining halls and 20 markets and cafés located across the Ann Arbor campus. Steve will join Local Orbit for Transparency, Collaboration & Shared Value in Local Food Economies, November 7-9 in Ann Arbor, MI.
Since arriving at Michigan Dining in 2014, Steve has achieved ambitious sustainability goals in local food procurement, composting, recycling and waste reduction. His successes come through a philosophy of meeting customers’ needs, working collaboratively with his team and creating a culture of innovation. Prior to joining Michigan Dining, Steve served as Resident District Manager of Sodexo, supervising the campus dining program of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
We had the opportunity to chat with Steve about University of Michigan’s local procurement program.
How can the University of Michigan leverage its buying power to increase markets for local food producers?
The University of Michigan runs one of the largest foodservice programs in the country, with an annual food spend of over $22M. As a publicly supported institution, we are interested in long term solutions to support our Michigan taxpayers. This includes commitments to support development of capacity with our cattle, poultry, pork and dairy farmers, collaborate with local produce initiatives, innovate in the area of logistics and transportation as well as lobbying to encourage the return of processing capacity to the state. Michigan Dining, along with the College and University segment of the food industry, is actively working to expand our local and sustainable purchasing capability.
What’s the biggest challenge you see for large institutions purchasing local food?
Climate and geographic limitations, seasonal supply, loss of regional processing facilities, transportation and logistics, and risk management all slow our progress and expansion of purchasing.
How can local food supply chains develop to address these challenges?
What’s needed is an organized and streamlined process to connect our ability as a buyer with a variety of small local suppliers in our community. The obstacles mentioned above apply to suppliers, as well. There is a significant need for development of the logistics and transportation efficiencies necessary to stimulate additional growth and availability of the local and regional markets to the large buyer.
Is there one thing institutional foodservice operators can do today to increase local purchasing?
Establishing local food trading networks that support suppliers and help them develop the skills and infrastructure necessary to supply larger buyers is required. Improved data collection both for the buyer and the seller will enhance the viability of the local market and assist the small vendor with business management training and improved techniques for marketing and facilitating partnerships.
You’ll have the opportunity to work directly with Steve, along with a stellar group of supply chain innovators, at Local Orbit’s workshop, Transparency, Collaboration & Shared Value in Local Food Economies, November 7-9. Apply now!
Food producers are central to rebuilding local food systems, but they are often missing from conversations and events that focus on aggregation, distribution, and procurement. In order to build collaborative supply chains, both established and early-stage producers need to be part of these conversations.
Local Orbit works to ensure the success of local food producers, and we’re particularly excited to provide opportunities for local producers in our home state Michigan!
We’re excited to invite Michigan farmers and food makers to participate in the discussion with national leaders about Transparency, Collaboration & Shared Value in Local Food Economies, and we want to make sure the workshop includes more Michigan producers that will benefit.
The workshop is an exciting opportunity for producers, local food distribution leaders, and institutional foodservice professionals to collaborate across the supply chain.
Understanding business process and customer needs is critical to prepare for growth in every business. And learning to collaborate with buyers and distributors – the focus of this workshop – is vital for successful wholesale producers.
Who should apply?
- Michigan farmers and food makers who currently sell to or want to expand to wholesale markets.
- You should be a full time producer with annual sales of at least $50,000 in 2015 and on track to do the same in 2016.
We’re offering a limited number of discounted $50 admissions.
If you’re interested, click here to email Conor Butkus to learn more and apply.
We had the opportunity to sit down and chat with two of our farmer discussion catalysts Vicki Zilke of Zilke Vegetable Farm and Dan Hobbs of Arkansas Valley Growers. They both discussed the role of food hubs and networks in scaling up wholesale markets for producers.