Nov. 18, 2014 1:59 pm

Philly Foodworks Shares Lessons from its First Year

Here's what they learned after a year connecting consumers with local food.

Philly Foodworks launched at the beginning of 2014 with the mission to connect consumers with local food producers through an online food marketplace and a community supported agriculture (CSA) program that sources products from Philadelphia-based and regional farms.

The way a CSA works is the consumer pays upfront for a season’s worth of produce. Philly Foodworks is a middleman in this process, connecting small farms that might not have the infrastructure to distribute their own product with customers from across the city. Its summer CSA program sourced 25 percent of its food from farms within Philadelphia County, and the rest from nearby farms in South Jersey and Lancaster County. wrote about Philly Foodworks last spring, just prior to the launch of their first CSA program. Now that the summer CSA share is over — and the winter share is just beginning — we wanted to check in and see what the start-up learned in its first year.

Co-founder Dylan Baird explained that there were difficulties in working with small food producers, such as lack of product availability, but that it was ultimately a very flexible system. For example, if one producer was short on a product, he would reach out within the network to fill the gap.

Buying from small producers such as urban farms, however, also means higher prices, an issue that most sellers of organic, local products have to deal with.

“Customers wanted some more price competitive options,” said Baird. “Its difficult, because naturally locally-made, small batch products are going to be a little more on the expensive side.”

Although, Baird added, the CSA model helps farmers make their operations more efficient and thus price competitive by paying them ahead of the season.

While Philly Foodwork’s model leans heavily on a large networks of producers and local businesses, many of its challenges were internal and logistical.

“The thing that took a long time to figure out and was almost more challenging was figuring out all of our own systems,” Baird noted.

This included learning how to best pack the CSA boxes and keeping track of different inventories of products.

“It’s a slightly more complicated system, I think, than a lot of other retail systems,” said Baird. “You don’t just have an inventory that you’re drawing down from — you’re ordering stuff based on orders you get from customers.”

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Shifting Gears for Winter

The winter CSA has begun, and it differs in a few significant ways from the summer share, which ended at the end of October. Besides different Baird said that Philly Foodworks is sourcing non-local produce for the first time for the winter share. Specifically, it is sourcing citrus fruits.

“Right now it is only citrus because the overwhelming customer feeling was ‘Hey, if i’m going to be buying citrus, why not buy it from you guys,'” he said.

The winter share will also include prepared foods for the first time, including soups from Good Spoon Soups.

For more information, check out the Philly Foodworks blog, which digs further into the company’s operations.

Photo via Philly Foodworks 


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