sostenibl.es is a digital network of SMEs in the organic agri-food sector, created to facilitate direct commercial contact and foster the creation of business opportunities among its members.
The current crisis is affecting heavily small farmers and artisans. Restaurants and local farmers markets, which were their main sales channels, are now closed, which leaves small family farms more vulnerable than ever and without many options to survive. In this situation, abuses and unfair trading practices have reportedly increased.
Meanwhile, more and more end-consumers in Spain and in other EU countries are willing to buy quality food and support local small farmers with their purchase. However, options are limited to buy groceries online, and in supermarkets it is difficult to find local products. Plus, the current crisis has overloaded the online sales channels for both big supermarkets and local shops: currently, you may expect delays in home delivery for up to 2 weeks. Some supermarkets have decided to restrict home deliveries to the elderly, sick and other groups at risk.
We want to serve as a bridge between small farmers and end-consumers. To do so, we are building a digital farmers market, where farmers will have a channel to sell directly to the end-consumer. And the end-consumers will have a convenient tool to buy the groceries while supporting local small farmers. We want the marketplace to be accessible for everyone, so we’re paying special attention to find ways to bridge the digital gap and serve the elderly.
Moreover, we want to engage restaurants –which are hardly hit by the crisis–, and give them a way to keep their business alive and nourish their relationship with customers even while they are temporarily closed. We would like to explore the feasibility to engage restaurants as pick up delivery points for local orders, as an additional option to home delivery.
The begginings: sostenibl.es network
Our platform before the crisis
- Created ~2 years ago.
- Currently we are a community of +100 SMEs along the food value chain: farmers, artisans, small shops and restaurants.
- Facilitating commercial contacts between SMEs
- Agreements with companies and other entities to extend commercial benefits to SMEs in sostenibl.es network: first agreement with national postal service Correos.
- Visibility of farmers and SMEs: we publish regularly featured articles and posts about our members. Our special of women enterpreneurs in the sector, featuring some bussinesswomen in our network, reached +40,000 people and got +400 reactions in FB.
During the first weeks after the outbreak
- The network facilitated direct contact between SMEs that could help each other.
- We identified critical challenges for farmers to sell their products, and high risks of closure of small farms.
- Main online shopping channels were overloaded across the country (from Carrefour to local organic shop) → home delivery delays of over 2 weeks are the new normal.
- Became clear that the crisis accelerated the widespread acceptance of grocery shopping online.
Our solution: sostenibl.es Farmers Market
We want to serve as a bridge between small farmers and end-consumers. To do so, we are building a digital farmers market, where farmers will have a channel to sell directly to the end-consumer. And the end-consumers will have a convenient tool to buy the groceries while supporting local small farmers.
Main characteristics of the solution
- Buy from many vendors in one shopping cart.
- Free shipping costs for customers.
- Free digital platform for vendors.
- Buy local food, from local farmers → search by location or in a map products and farmers nearby.
- Decentralized logistics model → every farmer arranges shipping.
- Transparency → farmers price their products and sell directly.
- Business model → Based on a 10-15% sales commission. The admission to the marketplace is free, and for end-clients buying is free → **** We are considering to add a managing fee for purchases under a certain amount (i.e. 50€), to encourage bigger shopping carts. ****
- MERCASA reports → the prices surge +500% from farmer to end consumer (there is room for farmers to cover shipping and our commission).
- News and articles about small farmers and the food chain in Spain.
- Mumumio’s CEO (online marketplace) → do’s and dont’s
- Farmidable’s CEO (online food e-commerce in Madrid) → overwhelmed with orders, sales have increased five-fold during the crisis.
User research and validation
- farmers resorting to life hacks → whatsapp groups as sales channel for farmers
- user interviews with sostenibl.es members (farmers and artisans) → + 10 SMEs directly contacted are ready to join the marketplace and bring others in their networks.
- engagement in social media → people want to buy from local small farmers.
Identification of technical solution during personal hackathon last weekend.
Initial implementation of technical solution during current week:
- set up subdomain and SSL certificates
- installation of CMS (Wordpress) and plugins
- getting to know the plugins and possibilities for customization (no professional developer in the team) basic set up of marketplace structure
EUvsVirus weekend hackathon
- configure core settings of marketplace
- Define web structure
- Define and create product categories
- Customization of appearance (ongoing)
- Creation of Core web pages
- Added features: Geocoding, geolocation, map search
- Testing of platform:
- created vendors and products
- tested shopping functionalities
- Identified additional logistics model → restaurants as pick up hubs for local orders → + value proposition to engage and support restaurants, also dramatically affected by the crisis.
- exploring logistics models to scale marketplace to other EU countries.
- connected with projects with possible synergies for collaboration.
Where we are and next steps
Marketplace platform almost ready to launch → operative marketplace with all the core functionalities mentioned → Launching prototype to the public by June.
Group of farmers and SMEs ready for testing the platform and setting up the first shops.
+100 SMEs in sostenibl.es network → including farmers, small food artisans and restaurants → a good pool of trusted vendors and partners to tap on.
Leverage existing alliances and connections with different groups of farmers.
sostenibl.es is part of FADEMUR network: Alliance of Rural Women’s Associations → Access to +150 rural women enterpreneurs and a farmers union.
What we need:
Visibility → to reach thousands of customers in Spain and other EU countries.
- in areas related to marketing and communications as immediate need to maximize the marketplace reach.
- Legal and financial advice/support → Terms and conditions, insurance, bookeeping complexities in marketplaces.
Connections and alliances → with other enterpreneurs, as well as enterprises (special interest in logistic agreements - could also be part of their CSR: rural development, supporting SMEs, supporting rural women and enterpreneurship).
Funding to contract team members → marketing & communications, UX-UI, back-end developer, e-commerce and logistics expert.
Funding for marketing campaigns to reach customers
Adding value after the crisis
Aligned with EU priorities:
- EU Green Deal
- supporting sustainable production systems
- supporting small farmers
- supporting rural development
- facilitating short food distribution channels
- promoting transparency in the food value chain
- empowering customers to make informed decisions about their food choices
We are here to stay
- leveraging the slow food / healthy-eating / sustainability momentum
- premium customer service
- quality products
- good prices
- empower customers to make informed decisions about their food choices
- enable customers to contribute to the survival of small farmers
- online shopping accessible for the elderly
Powerful network → building a B2B2C community around sustainable food
- building trust relationships between restaurants and farmers → new business opportunities after the crisis - trend in restaurants: going local and green.
- building trust relationships between customers, restaurants and farmers
- making food choices personal → sharing farmers stories
- behind the scenes → meet the farmers
- strong engagement with end-consumers in social media.