Dear FoodHub Members and Friends -
FoodHub will turn three years old in early 2013 and now serves 4,200 total Members! As we close the year, I’d like to share some key results and thoughts about FoodHub’s future…
FoodHub is growing
Developing the FoodHub membership has always been a chicken-and-egg problem – do we work first to recruit sellers so that buyers have something to buy? Or do we focus first on buyers to improve the likelihood of new sellers making sales?
The answer (of course), is that it takes two to tango. We’re thrilled to see how balanced the community has grown – the ratio of buyers to sellers has been roughly 50:50 since its earliest days. The current breakdown of FoodHub membership is:
- 40% buyers
- 38% sellers
- 20% associates
- 2% distributors
Some of those ~1,600 buyers represent huge spending power – foodservice contractors like Bon Appetit Management Company, distributors like Food Services of America, retailers like Whole Foods Markets and healthcare facilities like Providence-Portland Medical Center.
Buyers are buying!
Only 33 Sellers gave us an estimate this year of sales generated as a result of connections made on FoodHub on the annual Member Survey, but even in that small pool the results are significant: $108,000 went into the collective pockets of those 33 regional producers that wouldn’t have if they hadn’t been using FoodHub!
Those sales drive economic development in the local communities. In Ecotrust’s recent report, The Impact of Seven Cents, funded by Kaiser Permanente Community Fund at the Northwest Health Foundation, it was demonstrated that the purchase of local foods has a 1.86 economic multiplier. This means for every dollar spent on local food products, successive rounds of spending lead to another $.86 of spending, for an overall increase of $1.86 dollars to the local economy. So that $108K generated via FoodHub last year may well represent more than $200K in economic activity in the region. Not bad for just a handful of transactions!
With spending comes jobs. FoodHub sellers who responded to this year’s Member Survey reported employing 23% more full-time and 38% more part-time staff in 2012 than in 2010, and adding an aggregated total of 353 jobs to the region in those two years (113 of those in designated rural counties). While those jobs are not necessarily correlated directly to FoodHub membership, we take it as a very good sign in this economy that our sellers are growing!
FoodHub is a tool for farm to school
FoodHub functions as support staff for school foodservice directors because, while they may have a mandate to execute a farm to school program, many don’t know the farmers in their area. With a couple of clicks they can access a list of producers right from their desks, sort them by proximity to the school, then easily fire off messages to get bids.
Or they can do what Gitta Grether-Sweeney from Portland Public Schools did: “We posted a request on the FoodHub Marketplace for 200 lbs of radishes for our Harvest of the Month special and got responses from farmers right in our district! Doesn’t get any fresher than that.”
There are now 184 school-based Members (both K-12 and Pre-K) on FoodHub, representing a total of more than 1,400 individual school sites feeding more than 672,000 students. Carrot stick anyone?
There’s more where that came from
We’ve learned a lot from our work with schools that is transferable to other institutions. It’s not easy for foodservice directors to source locally given all their constraints – tight budgets, set menus, small staffs, and binders full of standard operating procedures that don’t accommodate the inherent variability of local, seasonal or sustainably produced food.
But those institutions – hospitals, universities, corporate cafeterias, and yes, schools – have the volume and spending power to change the regional food system game.
How can FoodHub Sellers get positioned to access the sizeable institutional market? Get GAP certified, learn “wholesale-ready” packaging rules, work to extend the season and improve the consistency of staple products, and maybe even invest in equipment to peel and chop produce to capture higher margins.
Associates: There is plenty for us who support the development of regional food systems to do! Significant infrastructure needs to be developed to grease the wheels for regional transactions:
- Well located aggregation facilities (physical food hubs, co-ops and distribution centers) that offer cold storage and minimal processing need to be developed.
- Distribution partners willing to devise creative, financially viable solutions for moving smaller quantities from more locations need to be engaged.
- Technical and financial assistance to support family-scale producers who want to access institutional market needs to be provided.
- Support for foodservice directors who are willing to stretch the boundaries of their operational constraints to make way for local food needs to be rallied.
All these needs point to the future of FoodHub too. How can we leverage the technological platform and human network to push those vital endeavors forward?
If this spurs ideas for you about projects, collaborations or opportunities to work together, let’s find time in the new year to talk. And in the meantime, thank you, as always, for your continued engagement in the FoodHub community. On behalf of the entire FoodHub team, we wish you relaxed holidays, delicious food, and a healthy and prosperous new year!