A Few Goodeggs: Help us Invent Technology To Grow and Sustain Local Food Systems | Civil Eats

A Few Goodeggs: Help us Invent Technology To Grow and Sustain Local Food Systems

What if we could use technology-based products or services to grow local food systems ten-fold or even twenty-fold in the next few years–from one percent of the current food production in our country today to 10 to 20 percent in the next decade? Our new company, Goodeggs, seeks to do just that. Our hypothesis is that some technology-based product or service will be an important enabler of that future.

We’re a group of folks who care about the growth of local food systems–for the sake of health, environment, cultural impact, and plain old delicious meals. The six of us have been working in the technology industry for a number of years at big companies, startups, and everything in between.  (We’ve even sold a a startup to Google!) During that time, we have been increasingly inspired by the local food phenomenon in the Bay Area and around the country.

A few months ago we decided to leave our jobs and put our technology skills and business resources in service of the good food movement.

Right now our company is in research and design mode as we attempt to invent technology that will grow and sustain local food systems.  We’re trying to learn as much as possible about the massive wave of innovation going on in the local food universe: New CSA concepts, neighborhood grocers finding new ways to feed their customers, food hubs rebuilding infrastructure all over the country, community kitchens… the list goes on. In parallel, we’re learning about what drives people to spend their food dollars on local food instead of the alternative. What drives “convenience” in food shopping? What’s missing in the conventional grocery-shopping experience that can be met by new local food channels?

Our research isn’t being done in a library. It’s driven by real conversations we’ve been having with real people. In the past few months we’ve visited small farms and big farms, spent time interviewing food entrepreneurs and advocates, and followed along on grocery-shopping trips with a diverse set of folks.

Our latest research technique, started this past month, has been to run a mock daily grocery shopping service, where a small group of folks here in San Francisco have agreed to let us study their food shopping habits and run experiments in their food-lives.

Here are a few highlights of our research to date:

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  • The local food businesses that are making it work, profitably, truly care about their customers, across the board.  As a result their customers are extremely loyal and a new kind of community starts to emerge. We hypothesize that a future with more small, relationship-driven food businesses is good for the local food system.
  • The local food businesses that are making it work, profitably, have diversified their sales channels: They all have a base membership (structured as a CSA or otherwise), plus they’re set up to sell wholesale and at various markets.
  • Most people demand the convenience of a modern grocery store: Wide operating hours, easy parking, fine-grained control over what goes into the cart. We think this is what might be preventing CSAs from going more mainstream.
  • For most food shoppers, taste is king. People want their food to taste great, period.  We see this as an inherent advantage for local food because most local food just tastes better.
  • All sorts of food-shoppers crave inspiration about what to make (even the great cooks).  This is an opportunity for the local food system–seasonal eating is inspiring!
  • Most food decisions are based on a protein: What kind of protein do I want to cook/eat?
  • Cooking during the week is much harder than cooking on the weekend.

We also have a number of questions that we are working on today and we hope you can help us answer some of them:

  • What are the newest innovations on the CSA model? We’ve learned about bread CSAs, beer CSAs, membership programs that involve pre-paying for groceries. What else is out there that’s inspiring and what hasn’t been invented yet?
  • We’re interested in learning more about delivery-grocery services. We’ve learned about services that deliver local groceries to offices, a new wave of milk-truck businesses across the country, pickup locations for prepared foods, and more. What else is working to bring people the next level of convenience with locally sourced food?
  • People mean all sorts of different things when they talk about health or nutrition. What kind of patterns exist across large numbers of shoppers? Are there any health considerations, or ways of thinking about nutrition, that are universal?
  • How can we create new job opportunities in the good food movement for the many unemployed and under-employed folks in our country today?

We’d love to hear from you all and encourage you to comment on this post. What sorts of inspiring examples have you seen in your own communities of local food entrepreneurs making it work? As leaders of the food movement, what patterns do you see emerging? What needs are there in your own communities that could potentially be met by technology-based products?

We’re looking forward to working with you all to build the future of the food movement.

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Rob Spiro and Alon Salant are co-founders of the startup Goodeggs, based in the Mission neighborhood in San Francisco.  Previously Rob was a Product Manager at Google after Google acquired his startup Aardvark.  Alon was the co-founder of Carbon Five, a software development firm with offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles.  They founded Goodeggs in summer 2011. You can stay up-to-date with Goodeggs by subscribing to their monthly newsletter via their website. Read more >

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  1. When I hear about a new product or platform in development to support a local or regional food system, I get excited because the tech capability is clearly there.

    However, from a total-system perspective, I always ask: in this case, has the tool been invented before the job?

    The complete local food supply chain - everything that goes into farm-to-plate - must be coordinated before the technology can have impact. Most local supply chain is broken because small players have no choice but to feed into the established system which is expensive and unfriendly to small-scale suppliers. Farmers markets, CSAs and farm-to-restaurant and farm-to-school programs are heartwarming, but don't have the business models to be sustainable for the producers that feed the systems (and thus, feed us).

    Demand for local is growing, but the channels through which local farmers can efficiently move product, invest in their businesses, and be economically viable, aren't there yet. Until they are, I see tech has the hammer without the nail.

    I don't know if GoodEggs has establkished the strong partners managing the supply chain side. I would love to know.
  2. It's not as technically exciting as an new-style web-driven CSA service or delivery service, but a major impediment to food system innovation is the horrible health care "system" in the U.S. So, in the time before the ACA health care exchanges launch (assuming that the GOP doesn't kill them) would it be possible to build formal networks of food workers so that they can pool their resources and risk to get lower cost health insurance? Corporations do this all the time, putting 100 or 1,000 or more people into a risk pool to make the actuarial calculations more favorable for the insurance companies. So why not a formal organization of food workers as a risk pool? No shortage of technological and conceptual challenges to deal with in this area.

    Another idea would be some kind of demand driver tool for farmers to look at as they decide what kinds of crops to plant. There might be a major unmet demand at farmers markets for exotics like curry leaves, yuzu citrus, quince, and so forth, but there isn't a good way to tell the farmers about the actual demand. I can certainly tell the farmer (or the farm's farmers market staff), but that's just one random data point, not a reliable data set.
  3. Hi Rob & Alon -- it's great to see all the activity in this area, isn't it?

    You might like to know about the service (and later API) that we're launching next month.

    Sustaination is a LinkedIn for local food business and farmers -- though we have really cool maps :)

    We make it easy and convenient for them to find each other, connect up, and trade.

    By making the existing networks visible we highlight opportunities for efficient cooperation, saving time, money, environmental impact whilst creating local jobs.

    We'd love to chat to see how we can fit together and present a comprehensive set of tools with minimal overlap. (Yay for APIs!). Do you know @BuckyBox? Maybe we should have a summit!

    You can find out more about us at www.sustaination.co.uk, email ed@sustaination.co.uk, or find us @twitter

    There's also a good summary in Fast Company at the moment: www.fastcoexist.com/1678988/a-linkedin-for-local-food-and-farmers

    Looking forward to talking.
  4. Rachel: You make great points. Our hope is that technology can help establish new channels for small food businesses to get to market, and potentially strengthen the existing ones (like farmers markets, CSAs, etc. as you mention) so that they're more economically viable for small businesses. But you're absolutely right in noting that the project will require input and coordination from all parts of the supply chain.

    Marc: those are two very cool ideas! The first one reminds me of some networks of freelancers that have been set up to aggregate risk for bulk-purchasing of health insurance. I would imagine that some unions do this as well. The second idea is very cool, a great problem for technology to solve – it's all about information transparency in a complex and fragmented marketplace. We'll be thinking about both of those!

    Ed: thanks for the comment! We'll follow up by email, would love to chat.

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