The results of a year-long study of the feasibility of establishing a food hub in the region have been released. The study was spearheaded by United Way and the New London County Food Policy Council (NLCFPC), undertaken to determine the optimal model for a food hub in New London County, the financial viability of such a food hub, and to understand the impact a hub might have on the health, wellness, agriculture, and the economy. Click here to read the report.
The study involved two components - a market assessment and business analysis. The core team responsible for executing the market assessment were: United Way; the NLCFPC; Farm Fresh New London County Schools; and New Venture Advisors. The study was authored by New Venture Advisors, a Chicago-based consulting firm with expertise in the assessment, design, launch, and development of businesses in the local food and sustainable agriculture arena. Since 2009, New Venture Advisors has worked on more than forty food hub ventures and food systems projects across North America. Much of the research was done by Connecticut College students, and the College is a partner with United Way in the NLCFPC.
Research showed that demand for local food from buyers and consumers is increasing in the state. The estimated unmet demand for local fruits and vegetables, proteins, and grains in New London County is substantial, estimated to be about $149 million across all farm product categories. Other research, including meetings with growers and buyers and surveys, concluded there is significant interest in establishing a food hub from both growers and buyers.
Though the Project Team recommended against establishing a centralized, physical aggregation and/or storage facility right now, they are advocating for a nonprofit virtual online food hub, focused on providing services to growers and buyers. The ultimate goal would be to build demand and supply in the region to volumes that warrant investment in a centralized infrastructure. Key objectives of the food hub would include:
- Support producers who are interested in working with a food hub in building wholesale readiness and establishing food safety protocols and certifications for wholesale markets.
- Support producers in accessing processing services that will enable them to better serve wholesale markets, utilize their seconds, and smooth out peaks in supply.
- Help buyers secure farm products produced in New London County, to meet their current demand levels.
- Increase overall demand for local products in and around New London County.
- Encourage and support producers in increasing their overall production levels.
The food hub would offer the following services:
- Facilitating sales to a variety of buyers through an online marketplace.
- Developing a robust branding, marketing, and consumer education campaign.
- Providing small scale, decentralized cold storage services for producers.
- Facilitating pick-up from farms and delivery to buyers, through in-house delivery and connecting producers with logistics providers.
- Providing collective purchasing of key supplies, including product specific wax and cardboard boxes.
- Value chain facilitation services, including coordinating wholesale readiness training and food safety support with local partners, connecting producers to protein and produce processing services, facilitating pre-season demand and production planning, and connecting producers to funding options.
The Project Team, recognizing that the most strategic approach may be to launch the food hub with a narrower focus on a small, subset of foundational services in its first year, is offering the following next steps:
- Research funding;
- Research online market platforms;
- Continue value chain facilitation between growers and buyers;
- Coordinate processing efforts;
- Foster branding, marketing, and consumer education; and
- Establish distribution and storage for produce/products.
The presentation concluded with a call to action to be part of the continuing discussion and research of a food hub. Anyone interested in being involved in this effort is welcome to attend the first meeting on Thursday, January 14th at 2 p.m. at United Way when the points above will begin to be addressed.