Here’s one thing locavores won’t be too happy to hear – local food is still a niche market at best. Though locavorism seems to be more popular than ever, most of the food in the U.S. still travels hundreds or thousands of miles to people’s plates. It’s no wonder, then, that one of the most popular debates is whether local food can actually scale itself and one day become a true alternative to our unsustainable food system.
Scaling is important not just in terms of making the local food more accessible, but also in terms of making this system more efficient – you can’t really compete with an industrial system that is super efficient without excelling in it yourself. But how do you do it exactly?
The answer lies of course in innovation. But what sort of innovative solution are we talking about exactly? The latest reply comes from Good Eggs, a San Francisco-based startup that is a hub aiming “to bring people and food closer together.” To do so they provide local farmers and food makers with an online storefront (webstand) and a system that helps get all that time-consuming administrative stuff that keeps them from being more productive off their shoulders. To locavores, Good Eggs offers an easy way to find and buy local food and later on conveniently pick it.
If this concept sounds familiar, you’re not wrong. Airbnb, Carpool.com, Zimride and Etsy are just some of the more successful online marketplaces that found ways to successfully connect small service providers and consumers. Now it remains to be seen if Good Eggs, who launched a pilot this week with 40 vendors covering three neighborhoods in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland, will follow the same path.
Good Eggs was founded by Rob Spiro and Alon Salant a year ago with a “simple” mission in mind – to grow and sustain local food systems worldwide. Like many entrepreneurs in the local food space, Spiro and Salant are tech industry veterans with impressive entrepreneurial experience. Rob Spiro, who serves as the CEO of Good Eggs, was previously the co-founder of the social Q&A site Aardvark, which was acquired by Google in 2010 for $50 million, and a product lead on the Google+ project. Salant, the company’s CTO, was previously the co-founder of Carbon Five, a software design company.
Spiro and Salant started with a mission in mind, but no clear understanding of how to get it done. “We were guys from the tech industry, we didn’t know what we were going to build, but we had this design process to figure out what kind of product would best achieve that mission,” Spiro told GigaOm. Their local food experience was limited to helping raise chickens and tomatoes on a farm in upstate New York (Spiro) and producing 100 jars of lemon marmalade each year from the Meyer lemon tree in the backyard garden (Salant), so they decided it was time to get to know the market a little better.
They started with observational research a-la IDEO: “We went grocery shopping with people and had them narrate their decision-making process where they pulled something off the shelf and thought about quality, price, trying something new,” Salant told SFGate. “We were really trying to get outside of our own heads and into the heads of the people we were trying to work with.”
The four-month research led to identifying two groups that can benefit from developing design technology products: food makers and food eaters. And so they started building tools to help local food producers sell directly to customers in an easy and user-friendly way. Basically, through the Good Egg’s platform, farmers and food makers can share their available products, enabling customers to place either a one-time or subscription-based order. All items are available then for pick-up or delivery. Good Eggs takes three percent of each transaction.
Although Good Eggs is starting its journey this week, it seems to be well prepared with 13 employees, VC funding (Harrison Metal Capital and Baseline Ventures) and an impressive list of advisors, including Damon Horowitz, Google’s director of engineering and “philosopher-in-chief,” and Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse Restaurant, who will also contribute to the company’s blog, The Eater’s Digest.
Although some would see more similarity to Etsy, I believe Good Eggs should be looking at Airbnb as role model, given its success as a real game changer in an established industry. Of course, part of Airbnb’s charm is its ability to provide a great service in a great price. If Good Eggs really wants to become Airbnb, it needs to know that great service will help it grow to some extent, but it might not be enough to scale local food systems worldwide. To do that, Good Eggs will eventually have to find a way to help local food makers to reduce their prices. No matter what, the way to mainstream local food is going through the pricing path and hopefully Good Eggs will find a way to make it through.
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and the New School, teaching courses in green business and new product development.