This session looked at innovative ways of promoting sales and connecting farms, restaurants, shops and consumers, without compromising the organic message. The workshop also looked at shortening food chains in urban areas, both UK and Europe. This session was organised by the Organic Growers Alliance (OGA)
Pete Dollimore (Hankham Organics/OGA): chair.
In the first presentation, Rob Alderson, one of the Manchester Veg People, introduced their approach to local marketing and innovative strategies to increase sales and strengthen collaboration with partners and consumers. Manchester Veg People is a multi-stakeholder cooperative, connecting growers, buyers and workers; which has established a market for locally grown organic fruit and veg in Greater Manchester. The produce is grown within 50 miles of Manchester City Centre, with a wide range of customers from the catering business (from small cafes to large institutions like the University of Manchester. Rob discussed the structure of the cooperative and explained how they have built up relationships throughout the past 4 years. He described some obstacles: for example when working directly with chefs as buyers the main difficulty was the timing of ordering and delivery of produce; and that in his experience for many customers ‘local’, ‘quality’ and ‘fresh’ were more important attributes than organic.
Pete Ritchie and Heather Anderson of Whitmuir. Pete Dollimore chairs (middle)
The next presentation was held jointly by Pete Ritchie and Heather Anderson of Whitmuir, the organic place, and they described the success stories and difficulties of their business in Scotland. Heather started with an overview of their farm structure, including a shop and restaurant (the only farm shop in the area). She described some obstacles in the Scottish context, where regional and local produce is much more important than organic. She stressed the importance of community engagement and customer relationships ‘food is a relationship’; the customers all come for a reason, she says, for example food intolerance or illness but also because they are fed up with big supermarkets etc. Pete went on, stating how important transparency is for their business; the buyers come to the farm/shop/restaurant and can see where the pigs live and where the field is where their food is grown. Very useful for them was also the set-up of an online shop, a newsletter via email and promotions for the restaurant and shop (e.g. vouchers). In the questions after their presentation it was discussed how important even these approaches of local marketing are that don’t work (e.g. ads on the local radio), because they still get the story and message of organic and local out. Also for their business, ‘local’ was more often the draw-in for customers and the ‘organic’ story was introduced later.
Ulrich Schmutz of Garden Organic/CAFS
Ulrich Schmutz from Garden Organic/CAFS gave the final presentation of the session and introduced the research project ‘Foodmetres’, which is running under the 7th European Framework and assesses ways of shortening food supply chains in urban areas around the world. It approaches the task from three different angles: short in terms of miles, in terms of time and in terms of trade chains (direct sale vs. traders and retailers). He showed the example of Ljubljana in Slovenia, where it is possible to grow 50% of the fruit and veg demand within the city. The produce is mainly grown privately in home gardens, not by professional growers. As this approach is not very lucrative, it is mainly done part-time and more as a hobby. Ulrich states that there is great potential for the increase of urban grown food in London for example, many city-gardens exist already but this way of food production could be largely expanded. Organic should also be the aim here and stronger collaboration between unprofessional and professional growers in urban areas could increase knowledge and expertise. He closes, stressing that on a higher level more information and education is needed as well as government involvement.
The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:
- Often ‘local’ and ‘regional’ produced food is a greater selling point than ‘organic’. This can be used to draw new customers in and explain the organic ‘story’ in a second step. It is very important that ‘organic’ stays in the discussions and that the story is told!
- Transparency and customer relation and involvement are key to successful marketing strategies on a local and regional basis.
- More information and education is needed to increase locally grown fruit and veg in urban areas, a close collaboration between unprofessional and professional growers can support this development.
Individual speaker presentations and abstracts
Rob Alderson (Manchester Veg People): A co-operative approach to feeding a city
Manchester Veg People is a multi-stakeholder co-operative (of growers, buyers and workers) aiming to create a viable new market for locally grown organic fruit & veg in Greater Manchester. The produce is grown within 50 miles of Manchester city centre and the buyers are catering businesses ranging from small cafes to bigger institutions like the University. This session will look at the progress we have made so far, including the unusual structure of the co-operative, attempts to crack into public procurement, logistics and our work towards basing the prices on true costs of production.
Pete Ritchie and Heather Anderson (Whitmuir, the organic place): Innovative local marketing: affiliations and associations
“No organics, thanks – we’re British” is even more true in Scotland where we eat less organic food relative to income than other parts of the UK. So putting a 100% organic farm shop and licensed restaurant in a sparsely-populated non-touristy area of Scotland just as the recession got under way was never going to be a smart move. We’ve spent the last four years keeping our nose just above water by finding ways to connect people to the farm and to get over their fear of ‘posh nosh’ without compromising on our organic message. We’re still one of the largest CSAs in the UK with 250 standing orders and on the way to moving the farm into community ownership. We’ve also been working on the wider context – putting together a co-operative business to business network (Organic Scotland), seeking to influence local and national government policy on organics, and building Nourish Scotland as a focus for work on sustainable food in Scotland. This session will be ‘warts and all’ about what’s worked and what hasn’t – the turkeys, the cash cows and the roadkill.
Ulrich Schmutz (Garden Organic/CAFS): Shortening food chains in metropolitan areas – examples from London, Berlin, Rotterdam and Milan
Foodmetres is a 3-year EU 7th framework research project looking at ways of shortening food supply chains in metropolitan areas. FoodMetRes is short for the ‘Food planning and innovation for sustainable Metropolitan Regions’ (www.foodmetres.eu). Seven universities and eleven small and medium size enterprises (SME’s) are involved with case studies in the UK, Germany, Nether-lands, Italy, Slovenia and Kenya. One aim of the project is to study innovations and shortening food supply chains – reducing the actual distance food travels but also cutting the number of ‘middlepersons’. Another aim is to study urban agriculture/horticulture (‘zero chain food supply’) and its potential contribution to food supply in different metropolitan areas. New growing spaces can be found in unexpected places: e.g. roof and vertical gardens or containers on temporarily and brownfield sites. Urban orchards (>12 trees) can be created with pneumatic drills carving out a narrow strip (0.2-0.3m) at the edge of roads or pavements and training fruit trees on slow growing rootstocks along walls. Computer map tools are used to help identify all the sites possible for new growing spaces and calculate potential cost-benefit scenarios. The presentation will share other practical innovation examples and participants’ experiences on this subject matter – a process academically coined as ‘knowledge brokerage’.