What is the premise of Forager and how does it aim to serve communities and customers?
Forager is a social mission-based venture with a goal of making locally sourced food more widely available to all. Our strategy to achieve this goal is to reduce the cost and complexity for grocers, wholesalers, institutions, and others in sourcing local food from small farms and artisanal suppliers by digitizing an analog and cumbersome procurement process. We also work to connect them with new suppliers so they can expand their local food offerings.
How has your experience with CashStar informed your development of Forager?
I created CashStar in 2007 just as the great recession began to unfold. CashStar catalyzed the shift from plastic to digital gift cards and issued $2 billion in digital gift cards just prior to selling for $178MM in 2017. We powered the digital gift card sites of more than 350 of the world’s greatest brands (e.g., Starbucks, BestBuy, The Home Depot, Gap, Lululemon, Dunkin Donuts).
In my 5+ years creating and building CashStar, I learned so very much. We could spend a whole lifetime on what I learned. Everything from who to hire, how to work with investors, how to open customer doors, motivate teams, etc.
What resources, partners, and companies have been helpful to Forager as it has continued to grow?
The most helpful folks have been our advisors and a few of our investors. One in particular was a partner at a well-respected retail consultancy and made a few particularly good introductions for us. He is now CEO of a multi-brand grocer and we are in conversations with one of them in Portland OR. Some of our investors have made intros to other investors who have invested in Forager and its mission.
What challenges do locally-sourced food markets currently face?
The local food supply chain is the most complicated I’ve ever encountered, particularly produce. Grocers complain that small farms are unreliable, can’t meet their demands, quality is inconsistent, and prices are too high, among other things. Further, since it requires so much labor and work, many just won’t do it. Or if they do, it’s a halfhearted commitment. Of course, there are grocers who are really committed to our local food system too and we have some of them as clients. These too have challenges as well, as many are comfortable doing it the way they always have (e.g., phone calls, paper and pen, fax etc.)
We also need to train and help farms be more “retail” ready when it comes to Insurance, tax returns on the administrative side – product availability management and communications rigor on the commerce side and logistics re-order taking, delivery, payments, etc. For older farms in particular, tech training is a must.
What is the future of local food markets for Mainers?
Maine is already a leader in local food, ranking #2 on the locavore index – nearly 7% of all our produce here in Maine is sourced locally, compared to about 3.5% nationwide.
COVID-19 has altered the landscape quite a bit – and it’s unclear if it’s here to stay or temporary because many grocers limited their product offering, reducing SKU’s during COVID as well. With the difficulty in e-commerce online ordering systems requiring conventional products to work well, consumers began purchasing directly from farms in record numbers. We saw an increase of nearly 1,000 % in the early days of the pandemic.
Maine has been a leader in local long before such terms as farm to table became a cliché. Pioneers include individuals like Sam Hayward from Fore Street in Portland, and Elliot Coleman in Blue Hill.
In your Tech Talk at Central Maine Tech Night this month, you will be speaking about how Forager was created. What are your plans for growth within the next few years?
Forager has many goals in the near and distant future. We hope to sign new grocers and other wholesale/retail clients and institutions, build our supplier networks, and capture more key information like insurance, certifications, years in business, etc. Improving our product significantly and raising more capital will allow us to continue to build strong strategic partnerships with entities that work with farms and retailers.
Last modified: June 7, 2021