A maxing out of farmers markets and the rise of online grocery shopping has fuelled widespread reports in the US of declining traffic to farmers markets and even market closures.
The threat is not unknown to the BC Association of Farmers Markets, which is striving to meet changing shopping patterns and explore online shopping options.
But the model is something already playing out at Food-X Urban Delivery in Burnaby, a venture of Peter van Stolk, founder of 22-year-old Sustainable Produce Urban Delivery Inc. (SPUD). SPUD began as a box program for local produce but has since grown beyond those humble roots.
Opened last fall, Food-X operates a 74,000-square-foot facility in Burnaby that can handle 4,200 orders a day, or about $400 million worth of product including produce from a half-dozen local farms including Snow Farms Ltd. and Fraserland Organics of Delta. A second, smaller facility operates in Vancouver.
The fulfilment centre in Burnaby currently handles more than 1,000 orders a day for customers from Whistler to Hope. It fulfils orders placed by SPUD customers as well as orders placed with retail giant Wal-Mart and a handful of local shops such as cheesemongers Les Amis du Fromage.
“We’re still a local CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] but with a lot more options,” says van Stolk, who sees partnering with Wal-Mart as an extension of SPUD’s commitment to reducing environmental impacts. By partnering with Wal-Mart, it makes better use of its own capacity and reduces the number of delivery vehicles on the road.
Moreover, it positions local producers to be on the leading edge of online shopping, which is estimated to account for about 4% of all grocery sales.
“We think customers of the future, 25% will be online,” says van Stolk.