The Distribution Dilemma

Tomiko Peirano

Tomiko Peirano › Tomiko has amassed decades of experience in the food industry, from her family's restaurant in Oregon's ...


There is a definite shift happening in how people are shopping for food.

Folks are not only seeking more sustainable alternatives to the traditional grocery store model (like farmer’s markets or CSAs), but also turning to their computers to find information about food or to source goods that may not be easily found on aisle 3.

These changes are creating plenty of interesting opportunities for both consumers and independent producers, but finding a successful distribution path continues to be an interesting hurdle.

I recently attended a Food + Tech meet-up that highlighted four online businesses (most of which are based in and serve NY state), each with their own approach to getting delicious, fresh food to the table.

Appetude is a social network-based site that allows users to learn about a particular dish before they order it. You can see pictures, read reviews and check out the dish’s overall popularity. It’s a fun way to familiarize yourself with new restaurants, or to help narrow your choices when everything seems potentially delicious. Appetude helps restaurants establish online cred dish by dish, and also manages a customer’s expectations.

Relay Foods is an online grocery store based in Richmond and Charlottesville, VA. By utilizing populous locations around their service area for pick-up, Relay Foods cuts out the need for delivery charges. Although they sell their fair share of big-name grocery goods, Relay Foods has made a concerted effort to work with as many local farmers and producers as possible. COO Arnie Katz noted that they’ve seen a shift in customers’ shopping habits away from conventional groceries and towards the local options – a direct result of the favorable merchandising and marketing Relay Foods has built up around their local producers and goods.

Wholeshare supports group buying of quality local foods, creating a cost-effective transaction between small farmers and consumers. The Wholeshare platform cuts out traditional middleman mark-ups by putting the responsibility of meeting order minimums in the hands of the buying group… it’s sort of like the “If you build it, they will come” model for online shopping. Wholeshare relies on shoppers working together to make a purchase, never a bad skill for people to learn.

With Farmer’s Web, the success of the sale is in the hands of the farm. Acting as “a wholesale management tool and online marketplace for local farms and buyers,” Farmer’s Web essentially functions as an online catalogue for local food goods. Farmer’s Web is an equally valuable tool for the producer and the bulk buyer, managing inventory, orders and the bottom line in one, centralized online location. So far, they've had great success with schools, restaurants and country clubs.

Having worked in the online grocery space for several years, the issues around sourcing and distributing food are endlessly intriguing to me. There is no clear wrong or right way to tackle this issue. The definition of success changes from cities to suburbs, region to region, and season to season. It was terrific to learn about these enterprising businesses and their take on closing the gap between producers and consumers.

Brad Feeser of Hearty Films filmed the evening and created a great recap of the night (click the image above to watch).

THE FILMMAKER: With a background in marketing and customer service, Brad Feeser now creates compelling video content with lush visuals as Hearty Films. Feeser focuses his video work on athletics, food, and all things social. He also has a sweet-tooth.

Photo Credit: Hearty Films