I am writing to let you know about an exciting change at Local Orbit. My name is Rob Barreca and I recently became the new CEO of Local Orbit. I’m a food hub director, organic farmer, and Local Orbit user myself. The changes my team and I’ll be making at Local Orbit will include improved stability and speed, quicker customer service, and new features.
How did I end up here?
I’ve been a user of Local Orbit since late 2014 when I founded Farm Link Hawai‘i – an online marketplace, aggregator, and delivery service that now serves nearly 100 active suppliers and buyers on the island of O‘ahu. In addition to my role as director of Farm Link Hawai‘i, I own and co-operate a five-acre certified organic farm. But, before getting involved in the local food movement I spent 15 years as a software engineer and web product designer.
Eager to apply my unique background in both technology and agriculture, I reached out to the Local Orbit team over the past three years to see how I might help improve the platform. Then, in September 2016, I applied for and was awarded a USDA Local Food Promotion Program grant aimed at developing a comprehensive software solution for local food systems.
Knowing about my background and USDA project, Erika Block recently contacted me to ask if our team was willing to take over Local Orbit. After devoting six years of hard work to the company, Erika and team needed to move on to other ventures. I happily accepted the offer, and we officially took over Local Orbit on December 18. The fortuitous timing allows us to make an even larger impact by applying our existing work and grant resources to the Local Orbit platform.
Thank you, Erika and team, for all you’ve done for local food!
What does this mean for you?
Over the next six weeks, we’ll focus on improving stability, fixing bugs, and making the platform faster. We will be promptly responding to your support tickets and returning your phone calls. We will be transparent regarding known bugs and our product roadmap. And, we will be looking to get your input to help us prioritize the most critical fixes and features to make all our markets more successful.
As the first of many enhancements to come, last week we deployed a critical bug fix to credit card checkout that some markets were experiencing. I’m hoping you’ll be patient with us as our team gets up to speed and works to improve the platform we all depend on.
Once we improve the stability and performance of the Local Orbit platform, we are excited to develop new functionality. Here are some items we are considering for our 2018 product roadmap:
- Support assigning suppliers and buyers to specific delivery/pick up routes
- Allow multiple product units to pull from a single inventory pool (e.g. 25 lb case, ½ lb bunch, and pound units automatically pull from 200 pounds of inventory)
- Clean up redundant, confusing product categories and allow each market to customize
- Option to require market manager approval for new products or major product changes
- Better support for standing/recurring orders
Please email your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org to help us prioritize and develop our long-term roadmap. We want to hear from you!
The rest of our team
A senior software engineer with 22 years of experience in leading-edge web development technologies and a passion for creating great user experiences. Nominated for an Emmy (Science & Technology) and 2-time Gemini nominee (Best Interactive).
A market developer and outreach coordinator with 3 years of experience building a marketplace and distribution logistics network on O‘ahu. Over 10 years of experience in sustainable community development, urban agriculture, and local food systems planning.
A senior product specialist and technical documentation writer with over 15 years of experience in online educational, rich media, and grant management software. (And, she grew up on a 200-acre farm in Michigan!)
Questions, suggestions, or concerns
If you have any questions, concerns, bug reports, or feature suggestions please get in touch with us in one of the following ways:
- Submitting a ticket is still the best way to reach out. Click Help on the top of your Local Orbit site, then click Submit a request.
- You can also email email@example.com with your message.
- Call our main phone line at (734) 545-8100.
Wishing you a happy and bountiful new year.
Last year we highlighted LINC Foods’ work with Gonzaga University to overcome logistics challenges in order to get local produce into university dining halls. We’re big fans of LINC’s work, not just because they’re a Local Orbit customer – but because co-founders Joel Williamson and Beth Robinette are resourceful entrepreneurs who are developing one of the most innovative food hub business models in the country.
The New Food Economy published an inspiring story about LINC’s work within the Spokane foodshed to build “the infrastructure for truly local beer.” It quotes Carl Sagan: “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” — an on-point analogy for what we’re seeing across local food chains, and the kind of vision and effort it takes to change the way communities eat.
Local beer takes more than a taproom. Just as bakers need flour for bread, brewers need malted grains to brew. The problem is there’s a scarcity of local malthouses—the facilities that germinate grains, so brewers can use the starch to feed fermentation. If you want to make truly local beer, don’t start a brewery. You’d better get busy and build a malthouse.
Here’s an excerpt that focuses on the beginnings of LINC’s distribution business – and their continuing process of asking questions, bootstrapping, learning, experimenting and evolving.
Farming is a way of life in many areas outside the city of Spokane. But here, as is the case in much of rural America, there is very little connection between what people grow and what they eat.
photo by Chris Lozier via The New Food Economy
“I drove through seven miles of wheat hills to go to school,” says Beth Robinette, co-founder of LINC Foods, a worker- and farmer-owned for-profit that distributes everything from carrots to meat. And yet she remembers how astonished she was that, despite the fields she passed every morning, she could not get local flour in the grocery store.
Today, LINC Foods, which stands for Local Inland Northwest Cooperative, is in the malting business—but that came about almost by accident. It happened because Robinette met her business partner, Joel Williamson, through their shared interest in social change, which led each of them to the Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Seattle. As they finished their education, they decided to tackle something together in Spokane.
A city council member got a group of people together to investigate how local foods could drive the local economy. There was talk of forming a food policy council. Gonzaga University held a meeting with farmers, and the two were invited to that too, because they were gaining a reputation for being experts in the field, even if their expertise was mostly curiosity.
“We started asking what problems food servers and farmers were having,” Robinette says. She and Williamson thought about forming a cooperative business to help thread the food from farm to institutions and other potential buyers. They decided a small farms conference would be a good place to test the idea. At a lunchtime break during a small farms conference, they announced a meeting of their own, and at the end of a very long day, 35 farmers came to talk and listen.
“We thought that was a good indication that we should do this,” says Williamson. He and Robinette took the most interested farmers and got serious, figuring out what kinds of services to provide growers and buyers. They formed a board and incorporated as a co-op in August 2014.
The early stages were just filling up a Scion in a parking lot with produce, and helping to distribute it, figuring out how to overcome the barriers Gonzaga had for procurement, and seeing what public school districts could purchase.
“We were scrambling, trying to find supply for the demand we had, or meet demand for the supply we had. We learned a lot about what else we needed to do. Learning by doing is painful but it works,” he says.
Soon, LINC Foods started working out of the local food bank, which offered it access to cold storage for free. The food bank appreciated their effort, and had some extra space, so they set some ground rules for collaboration, and the cooperative relied on their infrastructure for two years.
In the meantime, the founders were still busy accumulating knowledge and tools, and were enrolled in a program at the University of Washington in Seattle, the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship’s Jones & Foster Accelerator. This intensive mentoring process had a prize of $25,000 for completion. The cash was very alluring, an amount that could address the need for their own warehouse space and delivery truck. But the process itself proved at least as useful because that’s where they came up with the idea for the malthouse.
The accelerator forced them to get realistic about business plans. They saw they’d have to pad the financials to support the enterprise through what they predicted would be five lean years. Doing some type of food processing seemed like the way to add value to operations, but once they looked into processing carrots into baby carrots or coins for institutions, or making berries into jams, they realized the equipment was too expensive and the margins were too thin. Williamson, however, happened to be a home brewer. And they were surrounded by all that grain, so how about malting? The potential profits for malt were more attractive. And the panel of mentors at Jones & Foster loved the idea.
Less than a year after they’d incorporated the cooperative, the two went to their membership and proposed starting a malthouse. The idea was received with some skepticism. How would malt serve the cooperative, whose members were mostly growing fruits and vegetables? And did a startup—already precarious—really need another startup stacked on top? Robinette and Williamson were able to state their logical case, and began pursuing the secondary enterprise: a malthouse called Palouse Pint.
Read the full article on The New Food Economy.
The most significant cost of software has nothing to do with technology.
It’s the cost of user engagement and adoption within your organization once you choose the software.
Ease of use one of the most significant measures of success.
If your team (or your buyers, suppliers, and other partners) don’t find the software easy to use, it’s going to cost a lot to keep them engaged, and a lot to train new users.
As you scale your business, this gets increasingly expensive and could potentially limit your growth. When you’re evaluating new software it’s critical to ask:
- What will it cost to train our team – today and in the future?
- Will our team enjoy and use these tools to their fullest capacity to help our business?
Local Orbit’s highest priority is simplicity and thoughtful design – both when we make a decision about our own software development, and when we choose the services we use to run our business.
Complicated tools or clunky user experience are very costly over time.
Transparency is good for business. “The drivers of consumer value appear to have fundamentally changed, with far-reaching implications for the food and beverage industry. Traditional drivers (Taste, Price, and Convenience) no longer represent the dominant influence of consumer purchase decisions. Roughly half of consumers now weigh evolving drivers (Health & Wellness, Safety, Social Impact, Experience, and Transparency) with at least equal importance.” (Capitalizing on the shifting consumer food value equation)
Effective local food marketing can increase sales volume and profit margins. “Testing showed that when given a choice between local and non-local foods, the average sales for local products were higher than the non-local options, and consumers were willing to pay upward of 10% more for locally grown produce.” (The impact of local food marketing on purchase decision and willingness to pay in a foodservice setting)
90% of buyers in a recent Local Orbit survey want access to marketing materials to promote their local food sourcing to customers.
We are thrilled to add On-Demand Table Tents and Posters to Local Orbit’s growing list of tools to support transparency across the supply chain.
Any buyer or market manager can download table tents or posters in real-time, with producer and product stories for every order – as well as the food hub or distributor brand.
Tell the story of what’s actually on the menu this week – with a single click! On-Demand Table Tents and Posters are available on the newly released Accelerate Plan.
Current Local Orbit customers can lock in deeply discounted pricing by January 31.
Contact us for details.
We recently conducted a series of surveys among our network of local food suppliers, food hubs, and buyers. While we weren’t surprised that most buyers say they can’t find enough local product to meet their needs, we were surprised by how many suppliers and food hubs said they have problems selling all their available products.
When buyers can’t get what they need and suppliers can’t sell what they have, there is clearly a disconnect in local supply chains.
Let’s break down the results.
We asked suppliers and food hubs to tell us what they are seeing in the local food space, and the challenges they face with their businesses.
“We see a growing awareness of “local” and its importance to chefs, but not necessarily the follow through to integrate the product into their menus on a consistent basis.”
- “We have more work to do to make it easier and more accessible to our customers, as well as more affordable for them and more profitable for us.”
- “Markets are tight and there is a large gap in pricing between local and national supply chains”
- “Growing interest in local food procurement programs at institutions”
- “Needing access to more year-round product”
We asked buyers that purchase local food from our network of food hubs and suppliers to tell us how they address the challenge they face when purchasing local food. Let’s take a look at what type of buyers responded and what they had to say.
- “Building my menu seasonally helps a great deal.”
- “We try to source as locally as possible while still providing a cost effective product for our customers.”
- “Using statistics on the positive impact of local purchasing.”
Buyers’ top 3 challenges in buying local food:
What can we do about this?
Local supply chains are still young, and it will take time to resolve many of the challenges identified by our respondents. Local Orbit continues to work on reducing disconnections across local supply chains through improved networking and demand planning tools.
In the immediate term, however, we can make it easier for chefs and retailers to tell the story of the local food on their menus – which will continue to grow demand and educate consumers about the impact of keeping their food dollars in their communities.
90% of buyers want access to marketing materials to promote their local food purchasing to their customers.
In response to this feedback, we are thrilled to offer a new feature that was previously available only to institutional buyers: On-Demand Table Tents and Posters. Any buyer or market manager can download table tents or posters in real-time, with producer and product stories for every order – as well as the food hub or distributor brand. And this, in turn, will help the market continue to grow.
Tell the story of what’s actually on the menu this week! No more generic or outdated local food marketing materials.
On-Demand Table Tents and Posters are available on the newly released Accelerate Plan, which supports maturing distribution businesses that need more granular features to manage their operations.
Current Local Orbit customers can lock in deeply discounted pricing by January 31. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details.