The local food trend is here to stay. One indicator: After the U.S. Department of Agriculture this spring unveiled its Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative—an interactive map that aggregates the department’s recent investments related to local food systems—U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan called local retail “the biggest food trend we’ve seen in decades.”
But unlike the staying power of “buy local,” your customers are on the go. That’s why savvy entrepreneurs are launching mobile phone applications—or apps—that make it easier for busy shoppers to find, learn about and buy goods sourced nearby.
HarvestMark Food Traceability
“Today’s shoppers want to know their food is fresh and safe and where it comes from,” says Scott Carr, CEO of YottaMark, maker of the HarvestMark Food Traceability app. “And they want this information instantaneously.” After downloading the HarvestMark app for iPhone or Android, customers can scan or type the 16-digit HarvestMark code on a product package to immediately retrieve origin and harvest details, as well as ask questions of and give comments to producers and sellers of the food. “Retailers, brands and farmers use this feedback to help ensure they’re delivering fresh, high-quality food,” Carr says. Also, customers can store the items they’ve traced to create an informative meal catalog or access the Food Safety Notification feature, which provides updates in the event of a recall.
So far, 4 billion food items are traceable through HarvestMark, including Driscoll’s berries; the Rocky the Range, Rosie Organic and Rocky Jr. lines of chicken from Petaluma Poultry; and Kroger’s private label Simple Truth brand. Many of the more than 4,000 producers across North America who work with HarvestMark run small, family-owned farms, such as Sageland Farms in Washington, Leger & Son in Georgia and Coosaw Farms in South Carolina.
Launched in 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Foodtree has since branched out across North America with the intent of showing how the food system’s roots fit together. Foodtree’s iPhone app allows people to take photos of the foods they consume and then share source information, including the whereabouts of a product manufacturer and the store where an item was purchased. The lines of communication can also go in another direction: Retailers can share pictures and source details about their stock to reach customers where and when they’re deciding whether to make a purchase. “Increasingly, that point of decision is while someone’s walking around [a store] or using social tools in which friends share great products with them,” says Derek Shanahan, cofounder of Foodtree.
To date, more than 500 food businesses are using Foodtree to reach thousands of consumers through mobile phones, websites and Facebook pages. Michael Lueng, owner of the recently opened Harvest Community Foods in Vancouver, has Foodtree’s interactive programs on his store’s Facebook page and website. These tools provide maps to and descriptions of selected items in his inventory, including 36 local products. Harvest Community Foods also has Foodtree’s QR codes on products such as produce, honey and spices, allowing customers to scan and learn more about the goods while shopping in the store.
Where’s the local beef? The upcoming AgLocal app for tablets, smartphones and PCs will have the answer. The application brings together small livestock farmers and retailers with the goals of creating sustainable, efficient business relationships. Retailers and distributors will use the app to find and purchase meat directly from local producers and to request types of meat their customers are seeking. The benefit of the latter feature is that farmers can increase production for future demand without risking losses that result from unwanted leftovers. Consumers will be able to search for different cuts and kinds of meat and have results ranked by the retailer’s distance from their location.
AgLocal isn’t available just yet. The company reportedly started testing the app last summer in San Francisco, New York and Kansas City, and had recruited farmers, distributors and independent grocers in these areas to participate in the test phase. At aglocal.com, you can sign up to receive a notification when the app officially launches in your area.