03 December 2007, 17:04 PM
  • Ed Haigh comments on why online is the future of food shopping, as long as you use your business head

When the internet bubble burst in the early 2000s, many people, who had been living on false expectations for far too long, learnt hard lessons, and in many cases learnt them with devastating speed. At the heart of the self-deception that contributed to the crash was the mistaken belief that the internet was a place where different rules applied for businesses. Of course, that belief wasn’t entirely without foundation because a lot, especially to do with consumer habits, was changed by the internet. But the need for sound business practices was not one of them.

Years have passed since then and those people using the internet as a business tool have, on the whole, become a lot wiser. But not everyone is a wise old sage, looking back and wincing at the folly of their internet youth. For some people, setting up a website is still new and still feels a bit like becoming part of the gold rush.

Local food producers and retailers are, not surprisingly, often amongst these new, wide-eyed arrivals. They create websites, some of them quite brilliant in their own right, and plant them on the World Wide Web as though sticking their flag in the sand of the Wild West. ‘This is my patch and this is where my fortunes will come from!’, they think. Well, maybe. But the critical difference is that there was only ever so much land in the Wild West. Whereas the amount of ‘land’ available on the internet is, literally, limitless. True, the upside of the lack of geographical boundaries is that your patch can be found by anyone, but this leads us straight to the central point:

Creating a website that anyone in the world CAN find, doesn’t automatically mean having a website that everyone in the world WILL find. Or that when they do find it, people will automatically part with their cash.

The same rules of business apply. That’s why most of the £3 billion that is now being spent online on food in the UK is going straight to Mr Leahy and all his supermarket chums. But the fact that £3 billion is being spent means that there is, without doubt, an opportunity. That’s why we set up Localfoodshop.

Localfoodshop does provide immediate benefits for producers and retailers. It offers a cheap, quick and easy way to set up an e-commerce facility for anyone wanting to sell their products online. But that’s not how it will ultimately be judged. Where it will be judged is where any other business initiatives you undertake are judged. Smack bang in the cash till.

We believe that bringing hundreds, even thousands, of small, local food producers and retailers into one central place, online, makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Individually, trying to take on the big boys is like pushing water uphill with a fork. Together, it might not be so hard.

It’s very early days in the life of Localfoodshop, but there are already some good signs that the strategy is working. The media have been receptive to the story of a big,  national service in a way they might not have been with something smaller. Meanwhile, a number of high-profile partners are being lined up, keen to be a part of the story, who will help us to direct consumers to the site and, hopefully, their money into your cash till!

There are already more than 200 producers and small retailers involved. One has taken in excess of £1500 in the first month of trading. For others it’s slower, but we hope everyone understands that what we’re trying to do is for the long term. Clawing back the market share that good, local food deserves will take time and a concerted effort on everyone’s part. But, if we get it right, we’ll unlock the immense potential that the internet has always offered.

To find out more, visit http://www.localfoodshop.co.uk/content/For-producers