Local Line has been a major boost for organic market gardeners, Joe and Eraina Grootenboer. The couple has operated a 20-acre farm, River Bell Market Garden near Dresden, Ontario for seven years. The business has evolved from selling at farmers’ markets to operating a weekly box program from their farm. Thanks to the new software platform of Local Line, they moved to a customized box program in 2018.
“The farmers’ market model did not suit us,” says Grootenboer. “There weren’t enough sales to sustain us and too much effort goes into sales. The weekly box program is one size that’s supposed to fit all and keep customers happy-ish. But with the customized box program online, we have moved the average box sale from $19 per week to $27 per week in one season.”
They can service their customer base of more than 300, thanks to the time-saving aspects of the interactive software. It has helped to increase sales and organize fulfillment. The subscription is $50 per month with no restrictions on the size of the fruit and vegetable list or the number of customers.
“Surprisingly it was more affordable than I expected,” says Grootenboer. “Local Line’s software made it possible for our company to take a giant leap forward in providing customer satisfaction.”
In addition to offering customers more variety per order, in the case of an order mix-up, Grootenboer is able to work with that customer individually, by easily finding the specific order and customer information on Local Line and offering new product or a refund. This is impossible to do with a series of lists.
Providing personalized orders for their customers has helped them learn what customers want and in what quantities so that they can plan for the future. The lessons have been surprising. Italian eggplant always sells out. Beets continue to be significant. Tomatoes are in high demand, but Grootenboer sees an opportunity to grow more peppers and eggplant. Kohlrabi is still considered a far-out adventure for some customers. Basic herbs have turned out to be quite profitable.
“The online shopping platform is the most important part, of course, but the customer accounting and reporting is essential for planning and distilling data for the near future and for next season,” says Grootenboer. ”
Customer surveys are taken with a grain of salt. What customers say they want doesn’t always translate into sales. If there’s any shift for him in 2019, it’s into more greens: mustard greens, Asian greens, cabbage. Collards, for example, are following the trend-setter of kale.
“It’s still a balancing act,” says Grootenboer. “I’ve just ordered seed from William Dam, Seminova and Seedway. I choose the smaller and medium-sized varieties. Large vegetables can get too heavy for the customized box. In our experience, households generally don’t seek super-large items that might require several meals to consume.”
Launched in 2015, Local Line now has more than 300 subscribers in five provinces and 19 states says CEO Cole Jones. There are about eight similar businesses in North America using software programs in this space.
“Some of our customers sell to 200 households while others sell to hundreds of restaurants,” says Jones. “The software can handle 50 orders or 5,000 orders. You can do away those sticky notes and spreadsheets.”
The Wilfrid Laurier University graduate is passionate about food systems and streamlining operations. The online platform allows his clients to track orders in real time, plan delivery routes or pick-up locations. Time is spent growing and preparing produce for sale, rather than in the distribution and collections end of the business.
“Our early years have been focused on architecting the software so that it works for everyone in the local food system,” says Jones. “The program allows clients to segment packaging and SKUs, and even different price lists according to the type of client, wholesale or retail.”
Local Line empowers growers to customize their produce offerings to an ever-demanding millennial and baby boomer customer.
Graphic caption: A home page of the River Bell Market Garden order page.