This article is part of our special report Short food supply chains in Europe’s North.
One EU-funded project in Poland all started with a girl allergic to food additives and ended up with an innovative start-up, which connects 150 farmers with 100,000 people who want to eat healthy food straight from the producers. EURACTIV Poland reports.
The ‘Local Farmer’ project is becoming increasingly popular in Poland, but its creators, despite its success, want it to remain a niche project.
Andrej Modić is from Slovenia. But at one point in his life he came to Poland, where he met his wife Sylwia. Their daughter was born in 2009 with a number of health problems that could be treated by a diet consisting of good quality products.
It was all the more important because small Zarji was also troubled by a strong allergy to food additives. Unfortunately, products bought in organic shops did not solve the problem due to preservatives that are often needed to bring them in from hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away.
The desperate parents decided to buy food at local markets. But they were also disappointed – the sellers were not always able to explain where their goods came from.
Some sellers even cheated. That is why Andrej and Sylwia decided to look directly for producers – breeders, farmers and small processors. But how do you get really good beef when you have to buy a whole cow?
Other inspiring food cooperatives
The solution was to create a purchasing group, which would jointly buy more goods from a farmer or processor and then share the costs. And of course, enjoy truly healthy food.
The idea was not entirely new. Andrej brought it from his home country, Slovenia. Not to mention that already in Poland other similar associations were already established, like the ‘Well Cooperative’ (Kooperatywa “Dobrze”).
Back in Slovenia, such a small shopping group was organised by Andrej’s father, who was visited a supermarket almost 15 years ago and did not like it.
Sylwia and Andrej decided to form a similar group in Warsaw. They benefited from EU funds under the Innovative Economy Programme. In May 2014, the first version of the Local Farmer website was created. They wanted to reach those who wanted to eat healthy food, were passionate about cooking and wanted to be conscious consumers in general.
The idea quickly turned out to be a great success. “Today, we source our products from 150 farmers or small processors. We have access to virtually all the types of products that are available in supermarkets. But only for products that are completely tested and healthy. And most importantly, they are produced as close to the consumer as possible, so that they do not have to be carried far,” said Andrej.
“Our service is already used by 100,000 people. In fact, we have never advertised it. All this is due to the so-called whispered marketing, i.e. simply recommending us to others by satisfied customers. We plan to start the first real marketing activities on social media only this year, in August,” he added.
This is not the only project of this type in Poland that has turned out successful. More and more Poles want to eat and live better and healthier.
Buying co-ops are burgeoning in different parts of the country, mostly in Warsaw. Warsaw Food Cooperative files collective orders directly at the producers once every two weeks: farmers and manufacturers of plant oils or tofu, etc.
It is not a company but an association and everyone can join. Sole conditions to becoming a member is a minor membership fee and just 90 minutes a month of helping by co-shopping.
For the Well Cooperative, not only food is important, but also social ideas – equality, justice and supporting less socio-economically endowed. This project functions as a cooperative and association. It also runs two cooperative shops in Warsaw.
Although for the Local Farmer, social and ecological ideas are also important, Sylwia and Andrej have a more entrepreneurial approach and have quickly developed their start-up also outside of the capital.
The service already operates in six Polish cities – Warsaw, Kraków, Wrocław, Katowice, Poznań and Łódź. There are plans for yet another large Polish city. And then, even expansion into neighbouring European countries.
“From Warsaw’s point of view, the distance to Gdańsk or Berlin is quite similar,” explains Andrej Modić.
How to reduce “food miles”?
Their project is based on several principles. Firstly, goods must be fresh and also verified. Andrej and Sylwia, like detectives, visit farmers or small processing plants. They check fields, barns and production lines. Sometimes several times.
Not every supplier or manufacturer can use their service. “People are important to us. It is also important what philosophy farmers or processors have and how they produce their products. Every customer has to read the labels carefully in the supermarket.
“They don’t read the labels here, because we check everything for the consumers. But if someone wants to go to the farmer and see for himself how his farm looks like, it is possible. Each product has a face of a specific manufacturer”, said Andrej.
Another important rule of the Local Farmer is to reduce the delivery time and distance of the goods as much as possible. The upper limit is 100 km, but many products – especially fruit and vegetables – travel only 20-30 km.
“Our goal is not only that the products do not have to travel long and not to grow “food miles”, but we also want to reduce the impact of transport on the environment, i.e. create the smallest carbon footprint possible. That is why our environment is not a country or a continent, but an urban agglomeration.
“Although there are more and more people interested in using our service, we will never become a mass enterprise. We do not want that. We will remain niche and we are proud of it”, said Andrej.
Greater income for farmers
The third principle is fair treatment, not only for consumers but also for producers. A farmer who puts his products into buying-in receives only 20-30% of the final price paid by the consumer in the shop.
Along the way, there is also a wholesaler, a processing plant and finally a retailer. Everyone has their own margins. In addition, there are transport costs. The suppliers of the Local Farmer receive as much as 75% of the price paid by the consumer.
And they know exactly how many goods have been ordered. There is no waste here, no returns of unsold food. At the beginning the service only associated farmers and breeders with customers, now there is also a network of special collection points, which were organised by Sylwia and Andrej.
Eventually, the project should cover the entire chain. “We want manufacturers to do their best to produce good food. And we will organise a friendly ecosystem between the producer and the consumer,” said Andrej. So that everyone knows where the carrot he or she has eaten has grown.