“Eating local food is fundamental in building a more sustainable world.”
- Amy McCann
Locally grown food helps with reducing ecological effects in our community, offers good health benefits to people, and offers significant economic opportunities to communities. helps with reducing ecological effects in our community.
Regional or community markets demonstrated their importance to the US food supply chain during the recent pandemic, and they are thankfully gaining ground. And this is what Local Food Marketplace aims to uphold, promote and support.
In this episode, I’m joined by Amy McCann, founder, and CEO of Local Food Marketplace. Amy describes how her company supports farmers with online dashboards they can access from the field. She shares how the pandemic impacted her business, how they handled the increased demand for their products, and how they are bringing traditional eCommerce tools to farmers that specifically address the way farmers manage their businesses.
Local Food Marketplace started small just like how most farms start, but they’ve had a great deal of success because of the great customer relationships that they’ve developed from the very beginning. Because they come from a farming background, they are committed to creating products that help farmers grow their businesses as well as growing local, sustainable food.
Join us in Episode 33 to learn more about Local Food Marketplace, understand their vision, and how they are making a difference for small farm businesses.
Virginia Foodie Essentials:
Local food should be run by local people. - Amy McCann
Farming is a labor-intensive industry but it also gives back some pretty immediate results and you can kind of see the results of your labor. - Georgiana Dearing
It’s important to provide visibility on what's happening on the business side so that they can make good decisions on the production side and make adjustments. - Amy McCann
Everything that we do is through the farmer’s lens. How we can add value, help them be more successful, increase their sales, and be more efficient so that they're able to compete in our global food system and continue to serve more and more customers. - Amy McCann
Key Points From This Episode:
The shift to e-commerce because of the global pandemic
Connecting farms, farmer's markets, and food hubs
What an onboarding team does
Benefits of Email marketing
One app to help farmers manage their supply, harvest, and packing operations
Learning about marketing, business, how to increase sales
What are the key levers to sales growth?
How Local Food Marketplace is funded
Other Resources Mentioned:
More about the Guest:
Amy McCann is the founder and CEO of Local Food Marketplace, a tech company that is on a mission to increase the amount of food purchased and eaten locally by providing technology and services to farms and food hubs so they can sell and distribute local food to consumers, to restaurants, to grocery stores, and to institutions.
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Click Here for Full Transcript:
[0:00] Amy McCann: "And that was also a piece of why we chose to stay out of the venture-funded opportunities. We felt like we wanted to grow the market the way we felt it should be, and that local food should be run by local people."
[0:27] Georgiana Dearing: Welcome to The Virginia Foodie Podcast, where we lift the lid on the craft food industry and tell the stories behind the good food, good people, and good brands that you know and love. If you've ever come across a yummy food brand and wondered, “How did they do that? How do they turn that recipe into a successful business?” Then we've got some stories for you.
[0:43] Georgiana Dearing: Hi, Foodie family. Most of you, I hope, are foodie brands. And some of you are just foodie fans. But many of you, fans and brands, found me through VA Foodie. However, you got here, welcome. I started VA Foodie just over five years ago with the intention of growing an online platform that would help shoppers find and purchase locally sourced food. I had a deliberate intention to create an audience that would benefit manufacturers of sustainable package craft food brands because that's my wheelhouse. Helping package brands sell in and sell through retail and direct-to-consumer channels. But what happens when you start talking about local food and you start connecting with brands that can trace their ingredients back to the farm, is that you also grow an audience of farms and farmers and farmer's markets and food hubs. The more I connected with farmers, the more I got asked to help with farm marketing. And I just never felt qualified to take that on. There's a lot more to the business of farming that I just don't feel qualified to support. And that brings me to today's guest, Amy McCann.
Amy is the Founder and CEO of Local Food Marketplace, a tech company who's on a mission to increase the amount of food purchased and eaten locally by providing technology and services to farms and food hubs so they can sell and distribute local food to consumers, to restaurants, to grocery stores, and to the institution. You can think of their core product as the Shopify for the Ag industry. And it comes with a host of plugins and modules to help farms market their brands. Most recently they added MailChimp as an integrated marketing tool which is a product I recommend too.
Today, Amy describes how her company supports farmers with online dashboards that they can access from the field. I was right to think that farms aren't in my wheelhouse, but I'm so happy to find and share with you another resource with a common belief that eating local food is fundamental in building a more sustainable world.
[3:04] Georgiana Dearing: Hi, Amy. Thanks for joining me today.
[3:07] Amy McCann: Hello, George. It's great to be here. Thanks so much for having us on.
[3:11] Georgiana Dearing: Well, I'm happy to have you here because I've been following what your business is doing for a couple of years. But before we get into the meat of the interview, could you give our listeners an introduction to your company and what you're doing?
[3:25] Amy McCann: Absolutely. So my name is Amy McCann, and I'm the Co-Founder and CEO of Local Food Marketplace. We provide e-commerce software platforms to farms, farmers’ markets, and food hubs. We have been doing that since 2009.
[3:44] Georgiana Dearing: Wow, since 2009. That's several years, which is about 12 years?
[3:48] Amy McCann: Absolutely. Yes.
[3:50] Georgiana Dearing: So there's been a lot of technology changes in those 12 years, I guess. But I want to ask, you've gone through all of that and then you went through the pandemic last year. And still, as we record in August of 2021, there's still fallout from a global pandemic. But I'm curious, how did that impact your business? What happened? And what did you see happen in the last year?
[4:15] Amy McCann: The pandemic has been a very wild ride for us, as well as our customers. And I think it's been in a number of phases. So of course, they're an early phase in March and April of 2020, there was just a massive, very immediate increase in demand for our customers' products because so many folks were concerned about where they were getting their food. And it was in the early days of the pandemic before we all really understood what was going on. So people started hunkering down and really trying to shorten the chain of the product from when it's grown to when it gets onto their plates. That created unprecedented demand for our customers' products. And in turn, it created a huge increase in demand for the kinds of software platforms that we had been providing for, at that time, 11 years.
[5:15] Georgiana Dearing: So that's a technology question right there. This is an insider question. But did you have some bumps with that increased demand? Or were you poised to manage growth in a hurry?
[5:26] Amy McCann: We were forced to change our onboarding process and customer training process practically overnight because we were set up to onboard 50 to 100 customers a year. And we did that in a matter of a month. In month one, and then that continued for a number of months. Yes, it was a big change really quickly. But our customers were also experiencing similar requirements of them having to shift their sales channels. A lot of them were set up to sell to higher education, our schools were shutting down. We are set up to sell the restaurants. The restaurants, of course, many of them closed or were temporarily closed. And so they had to shift their sales channels, and likewise, we had to shift our onboarding process to handle the influx of new customers and also help our existing customers manage those shifts practically overnight.
[6:25] Georgiana Dearing: Oh, my goodness. I have so many questions. But can you talk a little bit about the market that you're serving? So you're serving farms, farmer’s markets, and local food hubs, and then I touched on technology. Are most people interacting through a mobile device? Or did they need a desktop to do it? I'm just curious.
[6:45] Amy McCann: The system is responsively designed. So it will interact or adjust the interface to the buyer as well as the farmer depending on whether they're on a phone, a tablet, or a computer. But like you pointed out, folks are increasingly accessing the system both from a purchasing standpoint as well as an updating availability from the farmers’ standpoint from their mobile device.
[7:13] Georgiana Dearing: So if the farmers are making updates to their product line, where can they, this is silly, I may not know, but can they literally do this from the field? Or do they need to be more connected than that?
[7:26] Amy McCann: They can literally do it from the field. And in fact, most farmers carry their phones when they do their field walks, which is a common thing that farmers do to assess where their crops are, and what's going to be coming available in the next number of days. And so, they'll be updating their availability literally from the field.
[7:49] Georgiana Dearing: Oh, that's great. That's an excellent convenience and definitely dovetails in with just the way human behavior is right now. So do you offer different things to farmers than farm markets? Or are there different components that people would need or plugin or turn on for the program that you use?
[8:08] Amy McCann: In some ways, yes. The core functionality is the same for farms as it is for food hubs and farm markets. It's just that instead of it just being for farm, it's just their products in the system and they're sending out the invoices and utilizing the system to process payment and connect with all their customers, versus a farmers market or a food hub allows all their producers to log in and update just their products and availability in the system. And so in that way, they're utilizing the system to also communicate with all of their producers and suppliers. So they're using a couple of other aspects of the system that farms don't, but the core functionality is all the same.
[8:53] Georgiana Dearing: This is interesting because the biggest problem that you have is real-time demand. Ag is so changeable, unlike maybe manufacturing goods or lead time from when you can make it and then get it to the shelf in a retail environment like a traditional brick and mortar environment. But ag products are, as you said, you're going through your crop walk that day, and okay, this is ready.
[9:19] Amy McCann: Absolutely. And especially since most of many of the farms that are utilizing our platform are smaller. So they're not necessarily planning production like very large industrial farms do. And so they are growing a lot of products or a lot of different items, and there's a little bit less assurety of what's going to be coming available and when. So having that real-time updating is critical for them.
[9:48] Georgiana Dearing: You mentioned that in those on e-commerce platform and you had some rapid growth that, I'm going to ask you, how are you funded? Are you a subscription-based service and does your membership really pays for what you're doing? Or do you have some underwriting for your program?
[10:05] Amy McCann: Our company is completely funded on sales of the services that we provide to our customers, and it's been like that from the very beginning. Most companies in our space are venture funded. As most tech companies are and we chose not to go that route very specifically.
[10:23] Georgiana Dearing: Okay, so you are a small business, make it or break it?
[10:28] Amy McCann: Absolutely. We bootstrapped our company as many farms do. We did the same thing. And we're really lucky in several ways. The skills that we had on our executive team, some great advisors, great employees and team members, a little bit of luck, and a very strict adherence to our core values and what we were trying to bring to the market. And that was also a piece of why we chose to stay out of the venture-funded opportunities. We felt that we wanted to grow the market the way we felt it should be and that local food should be run by local people. And that the benefits of those sales should accrue to the folks doing the hard work and that their branding should be what's front and center and not us. So there was, in the early days, interestingly Uber and a lot of folks ask us about that, just because there's a lot of tech companies that call themselves, the Uber of something. And they were founded just two months before us. We were in May of 2009, and they were in March of 2009, which I just learned. I didn't realize it was that close in timing. But we really felt like that model wasn't the right model for local food. Felt like it was really important that the farm’s brands will shine through and the folks doing that hard work. And so we really focused on just serving them and connecting with those farms and farmer’s markets and food hubs, and we've just had lots of success because of those great customer relationships that we've developed from the very beginning.
[12:14] Georgiana Dearing: When you said local food should be served by local businesses, you're in Oregon but you reach all across the country now, is that right?
[12:22] Amy McCann: We do. Yes, we have customers in all 50 states, I believe, that utilize our platform. Most of the folks that buy through our platform would never know that we even exist, and that's really by design. They just see that farmers market website, etc. and they're making their purchases there. It's entirely branded for those businesses.
[12:45] Georgiana Dearing: In my world, you're probably more like the Shopify of farm products where that's a platform that is used a lot, but it's not branded. It's branded by the shop.
[12:56] Amy McCann: Exactly. Yes. We're a niche version, I guess, so to speak of Shopify.
[13:04] Georgiana Dearing: Yes, very similar. Well, I have some questions about that recent growth. You're a small team, and you talked about onboarding all these new clients. My perception of farm marketing, I had you here because I'm asked all the time about marketing for farms and I don't think that that's my space. I'm more on the package side. But my perception of farm marketing is that most farmers get into the business for the work of farming. Growing the crops, raising livestock, and it's a labor-intensive industry. But it also gives back some pretty immediate results like you're working and you can see the results of your labor. But those people aren't necessarily inclined to think about their marketing strategy and things like that. So when you're onboarding all these people, what challenges are you facing with them? What things do you have to do for that onboarding?
[13:58] Amy McCann: Absolutely. We very much see our role as weaving together the business side of farming with the production side of farming. And you're 100%, right, most farms did not decide to have a farm because of the business side. They're generally most interested in the production side. But of course, as we all know, both of those things are important in order to make the production side a reality for the long term. And so those two pieces of the business as what we are trying to weave together to provide automation on the business side. So all the admin tasks that firms really don't like to do, I mean, do any of us really like admin tasks? So we, to the greatest degree possible try to automate those. Make them as streamlined as possible so that the pain of managing the business is minimized.
[14:57] Amy McCann: And then secondarily, or just as important, really providing the visibility on what's happening on the business side. So that they can make good decisions on the production side, and make adjustments based on demand or make those customer phone calls, or make those changes and where they're supplying their product, or who their top customers are. Providing that kind of information and visibility is the other aspect of what we bring to the table.
[15:26] Georgiana Dearing: So you have reporting tools within your platform, but then you also have training resources and things like that to help your customer-based stay on top of running a farm business, right?
[15:39] Amy McCann: Absolutely. Yes, we have an onboarding team. When customers onboard onto our platform, obviously in the very beginning, there's more onboarding that happens. But we offer those services even for our longtime customers to take advantage of. So we offer regular training and onboarding sessions which is great for new staff. And we also offer one-on-one sessions with our onboarding team to solve just, almost every customer we work with does something unique that is like, well, how am I going to solve this particular situation at hand? And that's what our onboarding team does. Every single one of the folks on our onboarding team comes out of the industry. So they have domain expertise and understand because they've run farmers’ markets. They've run farms. They've run food hubs. And we feel like that's really important for our customer's success because the folks that they're working with to leverage the technology understand the reality of what they're dealing with on a day-to-day basis.
[16:40] Georgiana Dearing: Oh, that's a great company culture really to have is to look for people who are specifically tied to the industry that you're serving.
[16:48] Amy McCann: Absolutely.
[16:49] Georgiana Dearing: Well, what caught my attention recently was that you've added email marketing to your platform. Can you talk a little bit about the add-on, and what your customers can expect to do with that? To me, that's very central to e-commerce, but it's another whole animal to wrangle.
[17:06] Amy McCann: Absolutely. So we've always enabled our customers to access all the data to very easily conduct their email marketing. But what we've done with this new direct integration with MailChimp is done a couple of things that just make that even more streamlined. So cutting out admin tasks, and also helping them increase their sales. A lot of folks now in the marketing world are trying to create automation. So based on customer behavior, sending an email to somebody that hasn't placed an order in a certain amount of time, or suggesting some products based on the things that they've already purchased that they might be interested in. So all of that data is being accrued in our platform. And we're now sharing that information with their MailChimp account so that they can create smart automation to help them increase their sales in a very straightforward way. And also, providing direct integration to their storefront from their MailChimp email.
[18:10] Georgiana Dearing: I thought that was interesting that you selected MailChimp because that's actually my product of choice for email marketing for my emerging craft brands. My reason behind it is because they have all the training and tools there to help someone if they're going to DIY it. And there's also a lot of resources out there if you need help customizing it. It's also an expandable platform. And I'm just curious, if any of that weighed into your choice as well? Maybe I'm asking you to validate my choice.
[18:40] Amy McCann: No. Those are really some of the top reasons that we chose that product, and many of our customers were already using it. They offer great, like you said, great training and resources for our customers to improve their own and email marketing. They offer great resources in terms of the development side of things so that we can easily integrate into their platform. And this wasn't a part of our decision-making, because I learned about it after the fact. But like us, they got started a bit earlier than us. But I listened to a podcast, How I Built This, I think it's called. I don't know if you've listened to it, but I recommend it if you have a chance. It's a longish interview, but they interviewed their CEO. They're also completely funded on sales, and they've never taken investor money. And now they’re, I believe, the number one email marketing system in the world.
[19:41] Georgiana Dearing: Yes, I'm going to have to listen to that episode, because they're an interesting company. And I definitely think that they take email behavior and etiquette pretty seriously to privacy, rules, and things like that. And it's always good to partner with someone like that.
[19:56] Amy McCann: Absolutely. They really have led the charge in that world. And I think it’s made email marketing important. As long as it has, despite all: SMS and all sorts of other marketing opportunities, technology-wise, it’s continued to keep email marketing supercritical because of some of those innovations that they've made.
[20:19] Georgiana Dearing: I'm just curious. MailChimp is a product that's easily expandable. Is Local Food Marketplace, as your platform, do you have growth levels and things like that for your customer base?
[20:32] Amy McCann: We do. We have a number of packages depending on the scale of the business and also various ways they might be operating the business, so add-on plugins that they can add to the system. But we have everything from a starter package to an enterprise package and other things in between. And then common add ons or if they're running a CSA, we have subscriptions add-on. We have an inventory management add-on if they have a warehouse of products that they're bringing things on purchase orders and managing a larger warehouse of products. Those are the kinds of things that we have in add-ons for integrating with your QuickBooks Online account and other things like that as well. So they can plug things in as it makes sense and as they grow their business.
[21:24] Georgiana Dearing: Well, what's next on the horizon for your business? What do you have in the pipeline that you can share?
[21:31] Amy McCann: Sure. Yes, we have several pretty large projects. There's one for online EBT. So SNAP, some folks call it food stamps. But basically, it allows, the USDA to expand the opportunities to utilize their SNAP benefits online. And they've been trialing it now for a few years, but they expanded that trial last year. And so we're working on offering that payment integration for our customers as well so they can add that on.
[22:04] Georgiana Dearing: That's really vital to get fresh food into some underserved populations. I'm excited to hear that. So that's good.
[22:14] Amy McCann: Yes. As soon as they announced the expansion, we've been working on it almost nonstop since. It's a pretty heavy lift. There are lots of requirements that the USDA requires, absolutely. But we feel that both customers that utilize those benefits should have access to the same food, as well as the farms and farmers’ markets and food hubs that we serve should be able to easily serve those folks as well. So we're really excited about this arena and are excited that the USDA saw to expand those opportunities to smaller merchants like farms and farmers markets as well. So that's one thing. We're also going to be releasing a farmers app specifically later this year that allows them to manage their supply, their harvest, and packing operations for all their sales channels in one place. So what happened in the pandemic, of course, as many farms started selling their products in two and three, and sometimes more online stores.
[23:22] Amy McCann: We've already talked about how admin tasks are not the favorite tasks for farms. And so, this new app will enable the farms to manage their supply and what they're selling. And each of those online stores, whether that online store is supported by us or supported by other systems like Square. A lot of farms use Square and some other generic platforms as well. So that's one really big thing that's coming this fall, which we're really excited about.
[23:57] Georgiana Dearing: That's interesting. The wheels of my brain are churning because inventory management is a problem I'm trying to solve for someone else. So that's very interesting.
[24:04] Amy McCann: Oh, okay.
[24:05] Georgiana Dearing: Back to the podcast at hand, are there any other tools beyond those two? I mean, that's a lot on your plate. But the long term for your business, what's your dream?
[24:15] Amy McCann: We're staying the course of everything that we do is through the farmer lens, and how we can add value and help them be more successful. Increase their sales and be more efficient so that they're able to compete in our global food system, and continue to serve more and more customers. We really see the ultimate test of that as when farmers are choosing that as an occupation. Farming is a full-time job plus, of course, on our platform is enabling folks to do that. And by offering the savings in time, admin time as well as those sales increases.
[24:56] Georgiana Dearing: I'm so glad that I talked to you because everything you have said today underscored my mental position that, I don't know nearly enough about farming to give the complete marketing advice that I can give to my nation. So I'm so glad that you came on, because I know there are a lot of people who follow us and listen to some of the things I do. They'll reach out to me and I'm like, it's just not the space I should be in. And now, I have you as a place to send people, and that's good for me. So thanks for that.
[25:30] Georgiana Dearing: But while I have you here, could you tell us how can people find you? And what's the best way to get started with you?
[25:38] Amy McCann: Absolutely. So of course, we have a web presence. Our website is localfoodmarketplace.com. We're on all of the social media channels, Instagram and Facebook, also just the Local Food Marketplace there as well. We have some really nice resources on our website. So if folks are just trying to get some advice about what's the best way to do online sales? Or how do I increase retention for my CSA customers? We have a resources section on our website where you can download some really nice guides to that, that we've done tons of interviews with our customers to get really good advice for folks. We also profile lots of different farms and farmers’ markets and food hubs also on our website. Those are really great ways to start learning more about ways people are marketing their business, how they're increasing our sales, what are the key levers to their sales growth? We try to do lots of profiles like that to tell the different stories because you never know what's going to resonate with folks.
[26:43] Georgiana Dearing: Those are all great resources. Thank you for sharing that. And thank you for spending some time with me today and telling me about your business. It's interesting and dynamic, and I'm glad you're out there doing that.
[26:56] Amy McCann: It's been an honor to be here, and really excited to be on your podcast, George.
[27:02] Georgiana Dearing: Thanks for listening. And if you want to learn more about how to grow your own food brand, then click on Grow My Brand at vafoodie.com. If you're a lover of local food, then be sure to follow us. We're @vafoodie on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Join the conversation and tell us about your adventures with good food, good people, and good brands.