It seems like the perfect way to shop. The clickable convenience of online browsing, but with the benefits of engaging with local producers and farmers.
Not to mention the high-quality produce on offer and a chance to be part of a food community. That’s exactly what NeighbourFood market offers; a clever and easy way to buy great food while supporting local producers.
Jack Crotty of Cork’s The Rocket Man and business partner, Martin Poucher, brought the concept to Ireland last year. The duo took over an existing model in the UK and launched it in Cork in December 2018.
Jack describes the business as an E-bay for food producers. “What I mean by that is, eBay doesn’t sell products, it creates a market place for sellers and buyers to interact with,” he explains. “So we create a market place which works online and we then build a system so producers can set up profiles, create their own products, set prices themselves and sell to customers. We don’t choose the prices and we don’t choose the products. We just encourage producers to join.”
People can purchase items online then head along to a chosen collection to point to pick up their goods. Producers only need to bring the exact items that have already been bought – and that could include everything from free-range chicken and fresh ready-to-eat meals to body products and natural wines.
The advantages for consumers are obvious - great, local food - but the system also works for producers and they see a lot more of the profits from their work. “More and more and corner shops are disappearing,” Jack says, “and small producers have fewer avenues in which they can sell to consumers themselves. Really you are just left with farmers’ markets or emailing your list to people. So you are forced to go into supermarkets and you’re looking at 25% on average for what they are selling it for. The supermarket requires 75% to be able to do what they do and the producers get 25% and the only option they have to be able to make a good living is to scale up."
The ambitious plan for NeighbourFood, is to become a network that will allow smaller producers to focus on quality. “By giving the producer 80% it’s more than double - and sometimes triple - what they would get in a supermarket but we make it as simple as possible for them.”
Jack adds, “We are constantly looking at ways to make it easier for small scale producers and the other one is we offer next day payout. So if you get a food collection on a Tuesday, the producer gets paid on Wednesday. Cash flow things are brutal for small producers where you have to wait 60 days to get paid"
The environment, and specifically, plastic and the waste we're accumulating are big topics at the moment. One of the interesting things about NeighbourFood is that it is a low packaging way to shop. “When you arrive and you grab your stuff and it’s packaging free. There are obviously certain things that need to be pre-packed such as meats but other than that, things aren’t wrapped in single-use plastic. So everyone is engaging with it correctly. The veg is loose, our milk comes in glass bottles and we do a return on bottles.”
It's clear that NeigbourFood is only really getting started. The model has been well received in Ireland and Jack has ambitious plans for the future. The team is looking for hosts all over Ireland to help grow the business and expand the NeighbourFood network into other locations.