After covid19: while food businesses are failing, can community oriented food projects be the way forward?

3 June 2020 at 17:30 CET (Brussels time)

Curated by: @yannick, founder of Fermenthings (Brussels), @noemi, co-founder of Edgeryders
How to register: Registration Page
Whare the session happens: we will send you the link to join the video session a few days before the event.

Summary

The corona virus crisis is bringing home the message for consumers to start buying local and for entrepreneurs, to rely on local ingredients and production sources for their food projects. Unfortunately, the crisis has brought down many small businesses and is forcing entrepreneurs to rethink their approaches. In this virtual session we learn about different Belgian niche food initiatives and the personal struggles & possibilities they are going through right now. While focused on Belgium, this session is a good case study for the broader edgeryders network, with members from over 30 countries.
We would like to discuss but not limit ourselves to the following :

  • which mindsets can help us limit losses? what kind of solutions are being tried? are there success stories amidst struggle?
  • is localisation something which can improve resilience on a societal level? will it be able to feed the whole table? is this model based on time (or burnout!) and higher quality scale-able to the whole society?
  • how can cooperative structures? or other new ways?
  • …your own questions.

Format & practical information

  • A few invited participants will open the conversation and share their experiences. After that, anyone who is present can tell about their project and engage in the discussion, learn how others are dealing with challenges and what strategies are working.
  • Who is this session for? People who are passionate about food - farming, production, delivery, cooking, serving. Participants are invited to join and share personal experiences. Bring the questions that haunt you!
  • Language: English, French and Dutch with translation by others when needed

Who else should join the session? Here are some initiatives we wish to learn from:

  • CoopCycle - a food delivery app for courier and restaurateur coops. Discussion here.
  • Enstoemelivery,
  • Home Gourmet
  • CoopCity and a producer owned distribution coop
  • PlantEd - Non-profit for education and catering with plant based foods.
  • hummus x hortense: plant based restaurant in Brussels; they offered to be a pickup point for vegetable baskets brought by the farmer that they work with, at no commission! nowadays, like most restaurants they do meals delivery, until the Horeca sector reopens in Belgium.
  • Freddy met Curry: sustainable meal delivery and a new startup in Brussels.

Discussion points

A Case Study

  • Yannick’s personal approach: breaking apart each piece of the business, cutting back & not wanting to restart the machine. For example, starting a food business that is taking off, wanting to grow and roll out new opportunities & “professionalization” of the whole enterprise. Loss of 95% of the revenue once the covid crisis goes full throttle. Now: looking into a much more artistic / social organization structure of the project. I don’t want to put food and business in the same basket anymore. Food projects should be possible within a social approach. So i’m cutting of most of my growth potential, selecting just a few gigs to be able to pay the costs. Cutting back on the loop: more demand -> more investments -> more costs -> needing more clients -> more demands…
    What types of mindsets do you have to overcome the crisis within the craft food industriy: “le capital sympathie”, minimizing losses, business as usual, going social?

An important question we also have is:

  • How to organise your project around the value of having ‘local products’? this seems to be the game changing opportunity for food projects: local is an added value. Does this actually influence the consumer behavior or is it another greenwashing terminology but no real change? These US recent studies show that while people say they are more prone to buy local, the price is what really drives their behavior.
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Based on an exchange of mails with Steven from Eatmosphere / Mary Pop-In and some thinking i did the last couple of weeks, i see a couple of axes where future and ongoing food projects could be set in

There is an lvl Localisation

On this axe we could discuss how feasible it is to create your project with the value proposition of being the most local possible. But this influances the cost, the logistics, the scale on which you create your project

There is the lvl workload

Here we can talk about the number of hours a food project needs to be open to be even just break-even. We know the stories about cooks that do 60-70 hours work week, and i see around me a lot of people doing much more then regular hours, while suffering the risk of loosing a lot in any crisis situation (terrorist attack, pandemic, …)

last lvl for me is regulation

Here you are limited by the degree of rules you need to follow and how that makes it or not possible to start your project. I think there is a lot of work to do on this level. With other type of craftmanship you could start making stuff right away, find your little market and grow. All this mostly legally
For almost any food project you need to put a lot of money and invest in learning about a lot of regulation before you can even start selling your first product.

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Maybe a good question that can be raised across the board: what if anything when it comes to either localisation, workload or/and regulation can be solved with shared infrastructure and or practices? How, if at all, does technology play into this?

Infrastructure and key costs is really where it breaks. I am apalled at how little resilience small food businesses have, and how quick they are failing when they can’t cover their fixed costs in a crisis. What are the lessons food entrepreneurs can learn? everyone is taught to have a business and financial plan, but those numbers cannot prepare you for steady financial reserves in times of plummeting sales. So how should you then run your food project in a financially sustainable way - what are the no nos? In a country like Belgium where support is offered in regional subsidies, can they be used in a smart way?

There are examples of shared infrastructure but they are also commercially aligned - like professional kitchens. Some of them are more community oriented than others, but there are of course other sets of problems which they can pose. However, for smaller food projects and for some time I think they can work:


Source: https://www.bfbc.be/post/horeca-à-bruxelles-est-ce-que-les-dark-kitchens-sont-une-solution. So yes, technology does play a role in that online apps and delivery services are on the rise.

The paradox of the paradoxes: even in short food chains and increased demands, some people are struggling because of the disruption and increased costs:

Today, during this strange period, his sales have risen by two hundred percent. Nice is not it? However, I still see farmer Matthias with his hands in her hair every week during the corona ‘high days’. A doubling of the sales figures is not as simple with farmers as ‘one plus one is two’. There is much more to it. Let us burp with Matthias. He literally does everything from A to Z. From administration, packaging, HR, sales, logistics, harvesting to sowing. He uses the structure of a large company, but compressed in a craft profession. If you are so small and have to take so much hay on your fork, you cannot just switch twice as fast. What does the two hundred percent turnover mean if you can barely cover your costs?
[…]
The ‘short chain’ model can therefore play a crucial role in the transition to a different food system. Only these pioneer farmers need support in their growth. Governments, research institutions, citizens, companies, … All can think along with Matthias and thus help him to provide us with tasty, healthy, local food in a sustainable way for him, our society, our nature and our money. Not only during this crisis, but also in the post-corona period. Start by looking up your local seasonal farmer (s), maybe help us out. Appreciate their professional pride and passion. After all, they practice one of the oldest professions in the world, co-create our nature and our landscape, stimulate tourism and the catering industry through the typical regional products and determine the identity of a region.

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We have a date for our event - 3 June 17:30! We will announce it also on other platforms, can anyone help me with that? (platforms where we would reach other food projects)

Ping @mex: does this work for you? Is there 1 specific question which you would like to address in the session, given where CoopCycle is positioned and where it wants to go in the near future?

Also could be of interest to @gregoiremarty who did a short video documentary in Morocco reflecting on food cycles; @pavlos a super connector in Greece and @jenny_gkiougki who is a food activist, @mstn working on a food application for home delivery in Italy.

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You can try with this, The agricultural European Innovation Partnership (EIP-AGRI), https://ec.europa.eu/eip/agriculture/en/events.

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also @eimhin might be interested in this.

On the cost efficiency of food projects (mostly restaurateur) there is this article that sums it up well:

The problem with the shared kitchen spaces are the many restrictions and complicated logistical problems they create.
Dry and wet food / meat and no meat / dairy / nut allergies / … all those things are difficult to set up in the same space due to the food regulations. There is some logical truth in it, but there is also a frightening urge to control everything that is simply absurd

Yes on food industry level it can be dangerous to not controle, because a badge of production maybe feeds 10.000 house holds at a time. But if we want to support a world where 1000 of little food entrepreneurs all have their own little market of a couple of hundred people for wich they produce food. we need to rethink the legislation.

Shared infrastructure can only become a thing if we rethink how we controle food.
There is a type of label in Canada that makes it possible to start home-made production, and legally viable. This “home-made” label counts for people making max X number of a product, and they need to put it that it follows only the common sense of production.

I like this label because it makes it possible to test out a market, see if your product is viable and you can create a crowd without having to invest in a solid kitchen, …

I’m pushing my space to become a safe spot for this kind of behaviour in the future. I know i could get in problem from AFSCAA, but i don’t care anymore. I want to give the possibility to starting food entrepreneurs in fermentation to produce their first couple of batches, once they want to become pro, they can move to better equiped facilities.

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Very cool event!
At the moment, I am supporting F2FMarket (https://www.f2fmarket.tech/) to write some proposals around food supply chain with other partners. NGI Atlantic and an special EU call to solve covid-19 challenges.

Happy to meet others!

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hi noemi,

hope you re good!

can you please change my email address to

jenny@agroecopolis.org ?

i dont use this one so much anymore, and it would be easier for me to have all work related things in one place!

Thanks :slight_smile:


Virus-free. www.avast.com

Hi @lylycarrillo, it would be great if you could explain us, the site is pretty cryptic :slight_smile: Anything in particular that you like about the initiative, the problem it’s trying to solve?
Would love to have you in the session, are you still based in Ghent?

Hi Jenny,
We’ve sent an email to the new address. Please follow the confirmation instructions :slight_smile:
How have you been, what are you working on nowadays?

maybe we can start a legal defence fund for you :slight_smile:

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Welcome on board @angelo @Puja & @bistra,
Go ahead and tell us what you see happening around you? what scares you?
Do you know any great projects that we can learn from ?

xx

Hi all
Localization is good, at the condition of having/increasing connections. I see this happening, even if it is also depending on the conditions of the lockdown. The crisis pushed farmers to organize themselves for online orders and delivery and this is good news, especially in remote rural areas. I think the food issues you are focusing on are worth to be discussed not only in an urban perspective but also in an internal and “marginal” areas perspective.

We see this with @winnieponcelet in our shared space - we cannot even insulate our own production from other (possiblty hazardous or non-compliant) productions.

I think shared spaces are great for testing and product development, they don’t work for selling your products, because there is too much interdependency.

It’s quite unfortunate, that at some point you do have to go on your own - or invest just as much in a shared AND compliant space! Then the whole niceness of sharing is added overhead :frowning:

@angelo do you have an example in mind?
See the story of the farmer in the article above…? He seems to be struggling quite a lot, with lack of capacity for running a bigger project!

Yes, I agree completely that rural is very much part of this discussion because that’s, for many of us, the origin of the chain.

I have three stories collected in Italy, 2 of them are in very marginal areas. In one of the 2 cases, the disruption in tourism caused by Covid could jeopardize the result of being ‘smart’. The article says nothing new: that’s why farmers deserve public support and in some areas you need to mix agriculture and food production with other economic activities, such as tourism, to survive. This is why things like “oh what a picturesque little farm in the middle of nowhere, what a beautiful place to live, let’s put a short-chain here” are to be put in a… reality perspective. In most European regions farming is a hard job, harder than other sectors for an income that is lower than in other sectors. The awareness of farmers on the need of organizing themselves empowers them in every sense and my hope is that this will stay.

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Thanks for the input, in the same type of idea @noemi it could be interesting to contact l’arbre qui pousse who is looking into rural food chains, but I did not yet have the time to check concretely what they are doing

1 Like