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Decentralising Home Delivery of Organic Food
9 min read
Home delivery of organic food is not a new idea. It’s been around for generations and no doubt it’ll be around for generations to come. The point though is that home delivery of organic food is entering a demand phase like never before and we should probably be thinking about how to prepare.
Soil Association announces largest year-on-year increase in sales of natural products in 15 years — The Guardian, Feb 2021
Riverford and Abel & Cole have proven a longstanding and growing demand throughout the country for the convenience of regular deliveries of fresh organic food with more than 100,000 households served between them.
Then there are all the small-scale local and regional organic box schemes throughout the country, some of which have been around for more than 30 years, who typically serve a few hundred local customers with food produced themselves or predominantly grown and sourced within their bioregion. There are over 300 of these independent operations which appeal to customers that prefer more intimate service and the good feeling of supporting their local economy.
Interestingly, even though the local small-scale box schemes represent more than 98% of the organic home delivery businesses, combined they are likely to represent less than 30% of total organic home delivered sales.
Why? Three main reasons in my opinion.
- Small-scale schemes often don’t have the capacity to invest in a savvy online shopping experience,
- they don’t always have the systems in place to be able to fulfil more orders without burning out, and
- they may not have the public profile that makes them known to potential customers.
But here’s the thing. There’s a double demand rise phenomenon occurring. Not only is demand for fresh organic food growing at record rates, demand for home delivery of food in general is growing even faster. So if the small-scale schemes want to reclaim some market share from centralised food oligopolies, then now is the time.
Pandemic prompts doubling of online grocery shoppers in UK — The Guardian, Aug 2020
The recent covid lockdowns forced millions of people to try online grocery shopping for the first time, and many of them are not going back. Most of the home delivery services had to stop taking on new customers, including the big boys, and are only now starting to open their gates again as the spike in demand is easing. However, all the indicators are showing that home delivery sales will not decrease to pre-covid levels and are instead likely to steadily increase on a much faster trajectory than was already evident before the lockdowns.
There is a mass migration happening right now from grocery shopping in stores to grocery shopping online. So all the seemingly unbreakable shopping habits of the past are evaporating into thin air. Millions of people are now in the market for new providers of their weekly shopping ritual.
So demand for home delivery is outstripping supply which means that whoever can upgrade their capacity to supply will have first dibs on the surplus demand.
All the large online grocery services are acutely aware of this and are scrambling to upgrade their systems and organise themselves to take all that new grocery market share, including organic.
The exciting news though is that the large centralised grocery services, that have enjoyed an oligopoly for so long, are not actually in pole position to claim this new market share. You are, we are, the smaller, more nimble, more adaptable and more authentic decentralised players in the organic market have a distinct advantage.
How? Well, if you think about it, the determining factors that attract customers are 1. a pleasing shopping experience, 2. adequate fulfilment capacity and, 3. strong public profile.
- In the past, in order to provide the best shopping experience, you needed to invest in the best real estate and build the most impressive theatre of merchandise with enough space to provide a plethora of variety. This was a very expensive game and only accessible by the most highly resourced. However, online shopping levels the playing field. No matter how much capital you have, your real estate is limited to the customers screen and putting pixels on a screen is much more accessible than putting bricks on a high value piece of land. So, as long as the on-screen experience of ordering organic food is pleasing to the eye, intuitive and price competitive, then you’re in the running to capture market share.
- In the past, in order to have enough fulfilment capacity through the large retail stores, you needed to have massive distribution centres, centralised logistics systems and inordinate amounts of inventory to fill the shelves. This is even more expensive than the stores themselves, so again, the game is only for the elite few. However, with online shopping, the orders are placed in advance so you only need to harvest or receive the inventory after it’s already been sold and you don’t need to store it. You just receive it, pack it and send it out the door. So you don’t need anywhere near the amount of expensive space or inventory management, which means you have a cost advantage to help you compete on price.
- In the past, in order to build a public profile, you needed to pay huge sums for marketing spin and advertising campaigns. But with online shopping, as long as the shopping experience and fulfilment capacity is there, the message of a truly authentic service provided by independent local businesses will cut through the expensive marketing noise and spread rapidly by social media and word of mouth.
How do small-scale decentralised organic home delivery services reclaim market share from the large scale centralised retailers?
By joining forces on a common technology platform. One that
- provides independent local business customers with a high quality shopping experience,
- operational systems to make it easier to provide more products to more customers in less time, and
- a highly appealing national public profile consisting of a myriad of independent, salt-of-the-earth local and organic food businesses.
This is exactly what Ooooby is providing for small-scale food producers today.
Ooooby is a sophisticated online software platform that has facilitated over half a million home deliveries and which makes it easy for independent food producers and box schemes to set up operations in their own area.
The longstanding vision for Ooooby has always been to help small decentralised food businesses to reclaim market share from the large centralised retailers by using the online shopping phenomenon to put the power back into the hands of the independents. This vision has been steadily realised over the last decade achieving consistent year on year growth of sales.
Since May 2020, 10 independent veg box schemes have started running on the Ooooby platform.
- Bristol — Bristol Veg Boxes
- Hampshire — Ooooby Hampshire
- North Cornwall — Bangors Organic Veg Boxes
- Sheffield — Moss Valley Market Garden
- Newcastle — The Paddock
- South Shropshire — Myriad Organics
- East Kent — Walmestone Growers
- Highlands — Knockfarrel Produce
- Derbyshire — Kitchen Garden
- East Devon — Trill Farm Garden
The next few months will see 7 more veg box schemes joining the Ooooby network.
- Exeter — Shillingford Organics
- North Oxfordshire — North Aston Organics
- South Oxon & West Berks — Tolhurst Organic
- West Dorset — Springtail Farm
- East Hampshire — Ed’s Veg
- Yorkshire — Farmaround North
- Aberdeenshire — Berwick Wood Produce
The primary reasons for the rapid adoption of the Ooooby platform seem to be a combination of an increased need to automate operations due to the sharp rise in customer demands since the lockdowns and the ease of transition from various different operating systems onto the Ooooby platform.
As more operations move onto the platform (each contributing to and drawing on an aggregated database of supply availability, demand forecasts and logistics capacity) the expanding network of independent local hubs can be leveraged to enable access to a wider variety of fresh produce and artisan products by facilitating inter-network trading and cross-docking.
The main difference between Ooooby and the various other home delivery software services available in the UK is that it has been designed and built iteratively over the years by the same people that needed to use the software themselves. So everything about the system was designed from a perspective of “What would make our own lives easier while also making our customers happier?” As a result, the software is both simple to use and has lots of clever features to save time and money.
The Ooooby platform is designed to reduce supply chain costs so that the food producers can earn a greater proportion of the retail pound without pushing the price up for customers. The basic idea is that most of the food is sold in advance via a subscription model so that crops or production batches can be planned and harvested to order. This reduces risk, waste and cash flow issues considerably.
Ooooby is becoming a user-owned platform.
Suppliers, supply chain operators and customers will soon all be able to gain shares in and benefit from the success of the platform. This for-common-profit model means that the value generated by the users of the platform is redistributed back to the users of the platform in the form of profit share and rebates. This idea is a very simple one that has been proven to work for generations as demonstrated by the cooperative model. Whilst Ooooby is not planning to become a traditional cooperative, it is borrowing the best parts of the cooperative model to form a next generation ‘user-owned’ or ‘multi-stakeholder’ ownership and governance model that can take advantage of new technology to ensure real transparency and appropriate control management.
Our belief is that this ownership model will also increase the attraction for new users to come on board. As more suppliers and customers join the platform the network effects will increase exposure to the market, which will bring more customers, which will bring more suppliers, which will bring more customers… creating a flywheel effect to steadily increase the market share for independent and small-scale food producers.
If you have an existing home delivery organic food service, we can help you transition your operation onto the Ooooby platform in as little as 2 weeks.
If you’re planning on starting a new home delivery service in your area, we can set you up on the system and support you to get up and running.
To find out more you can contact Pete Russell at email@example.com and he will be happy to arrange a video call to show you how it all works.
To see the platform in action visit www.ooooby.org
Ooooby Platform features.
- pre-curated and/or customised food boxes
- one off orders or weekly subscriptions
- shop by categories including chilled items
- supplier profiles
- filter by provenance
- easy low cost online payment processing
- set product origin location
- distinguish between fair trade, organic etc
- produce masterlist with high quality images
- product bundles
- box labels and packing slips
- pack by route or box type
- route optimised delivery run sheets
- home delivery and/or drop points
- multiple delivery days
- transaction history and activity notes
- discount options
- automated emails
- optimised for google search
- promo codes
- sign up and cancelation surveys
- automatic customer payments
- credit card, debit card and direct deposits
- overdue accounts management
- order summary with units and avg transactions
- retention analysis
- finance summary
- customer mapping