Food Assemblies – a new marketing channel

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Food Assemblies – a new marketing channel

Consumers are increasingly looking for local products. In the UK the main avenue has been Farm Shops whilst in Europe it has been via Farmer’s Markets.

In Australia it has been the Farmer Market that has been the main driver of getting local food to local people.

This is now changing and evolving.

The new marketing avenue is a Food Assembly which is a cross between a farmer’s market and a buying group, the system is booming in France since its establishment in 2011, and Assemblies are now being established in the UK.

Food assemblies are a sociable cross between a buying group and a farmer’s market.

The Assembly is a method of buying and selling food which supports local producers and bypasses the large chains.

This pop-up pre-order food shopping system is known in France as La Ruche Qui Dit Oui – “the hive that says yes.” Each assembly is organised by a leader who managers the system and gets a small commission-based on income, they organise venues and sign up local producers and growers to the scheme. Products are then advertised on a local page, on the central website and consumers select and pay for the produce online and are told when they can come and collect their goods.

The assembly meets up weekly. Unlike most buying groups when bulk-buys are delivered to an individual who then divides the food into smaller portions, everyone joins in at an assembly – the farmers, the assembly leader and the “members” (the people buying the food) attend the weekly event. This means that customers and food producers meet regularly to share ideas and to build loyalty.

For the farmer or food producer, the advantage is that the food is pre-sold and the actual assembly event is a two-hour slot for people to collect their food.

According to Etienne De Montlaur, the international coordinator “Farmers don’t have to spend long hours at a market not knowing how much they’ll sell. For the consumer, it’s a convenient way to buy local groceries, everything from vegetables to fish, cheese and bread is all sold on one website and can be collected from one place.”

There are now over 450 assemblies in France, Belgium, Britain, Germany and Spain. In France, there are 2,600 producers listed on the online platform and together they sell around 50,000 orders each month to the members. The rules of the assembly state that food must be kept local: there’s a 150-mile radius rule that says food sold must come within this maximum distance. Produce doesn’t have to be exclusively organic but there’s a strong emphasis on produce from small-scale enterprises, which practise high eco standards.

Origins and investment

The idea originated in 2010, when French entrepreneurs Guilhem Chéron,Marc-David Choukroun and Mounir Mahjoubi co-founded a company called Equanum SAS having developed the concept of the Food Assembly in a French startup incubator .Equanum, runs the Food Assembly platform. Earlier this year, Equanum raised approximately €1.5m in debt in 2014 from the Caisse Des Depots, the Paris Initiative Enterprise and BNP Paribas and it also receives subsidies from the Ile De France region.

The company takes 16.7% of the pre-tax turnover from each producer that sells at The Food Assembly. Of this, 8.35% goes to pay for using the central IT support and the online platform, and 8.35% goes to the individual assembly leader. The margin that supermarkets and other independent grocers make on products varies but the Food Assembly says the 16.7% represents a better deal for farmers, as it also offers flexibility: they also only have to attend events if they have sold a minimum level of produce online to make it worth their while.

Recruitment of the assembly leaders focuses on individuals who are committed to helping their own neighbourhood access local food.

Zeppetelli says: “For people to see this as a serious buying option, It needs to cover the basics: fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, and dairy products. The food must be local, so the assembly won’t sell dried goods like pasta or imported bananas. But I’m hoping we can cover most of the fresh products that people buy weekly. I’m concerned about the domination of supermarkets and I want to be able to buy great local food myself, in my own area.”

This article is based on an article written in The Guardian newspaper on the emergence of food assemblies.