By Timothy Norman http://seedstock.com
AgLocal, a Kansas City-based tech startup, has designs for changing the meat distribution paradigm with a new web and mobile application that will make it easier for anyone to buy or sell locally raised meats. The company says its app will make local, high-quality meat available to more people with less waste, at subsequently lower prices, and with more money finding its way back to farmers. Changing the way American meat producers have done business for a century might smack of an excess of ambition, but Josh Coleman, the company’s Director of Sales & Marketing sees an industry hemorrhaging dollars and ripe for change.
“Right now, supermarkets mark up 30-60% because they have to predict on waste,” Coleman says, highlighting the same kind of efficiency gaps closed by enterprising web juggernauts like Amazon and iTunes in the past. “With these types of technologies, they’ll be able to do a better job of seeing how much is being purchased. And those margins won’t need to be marked up as high for waste.”
A benefit to farmers
The opportunity to help small livestock farmers become more sustainable and economically viable is the principal driver behind the creation of AgLocal web and mobile application. The company’s founders as well as Coleman all hail from farming backgrounds and are acutely aware of the problems that farmers face. The company’s founder and CEO, Naithan Jones, first had the idea for AgLocal when his aunt, a Kansas farmer, told him that she was struggling to stay afloat. Jones was a longtime member of the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, an organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs build their companies. He decided that the best way to help farmers like his aunt would be to help them sell their meat directly to consumers and thereby capture a greater margin on their products. In the autumn of 2011, he teamed up with co-founder and Chief Product Officer, Jacob McDaniel, to begin designing and building the application. McDaniel grew up working on his family’s farm in Kansas. Shortly thereafter Coleman, a social media and telecommunications expert who was raised on his grandparents’ farm in central Missouri, was added to the team.
A direct connection to local meat
AgLocal’s app, which will work on tablets, smartphones and PCs, will serve to directly connect consumers to their local distributors, butcher shops, grocery stores, and meat producers. Distributors and store owners will use the app to purchase meat directly from the farmers, with AgLocal profiting via a small service fee.
The app will give consumers the ability to browse local farm profile pages, search for different cuts of meat, and purchase a wide selection of products ranging from free-range chicken to grass-fed beef and more. The app aggregates information based on participating local farms and stores, and presents this information to consumers sorted by distance, giving the principle of “buy local” a whole new meaning. Consumers as well as distributors will be able to use the app to provide direct feedback on what products they are looking for, which will allow local meat producers to prepare for future demand and increase production with reduced risk.
AgLocal also believes the app will improve the connection between consumers and farmers by increasing transparency. “This will be a very transparent application where people can see exactly where [their food] comes from and how it was raised, and things like that which I think are very important to consumers,” says Coleman. “It will give people that gratifying experience going through and seeing farms, and knowing that their money will be supporting a local farmer.”
Initial funding for the startup came from the families of the three founders. App designer and co-founder McDaniel commented that it is appropriate that the seed money for this kind of endeavor came from forward-looking farmers, but says that they are now also raising money from venture capitalists and angel investors in the Silicon Valley and Kansas City areas.
AgLocal plans to start alpha testing their app this summer in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, and Kansas City. The alpha phase will include only farmers and distributors; consumers will be part of the subsequent beta version. The company is currently in the process of recruiting local farmers, independent distributors, butcher shops, and independent grocery stores in these areas, with plans for integrating small grocery chains in the future. Feedback from these stakeholders will inform the design and functionality of the app, which will eventually be available on smartphones, tablets and web browsers.
Reaction to the app’s announcement has been positive, said Coleman, who feels that this is a signal that this kind of innovation in food production is long overdue. One of the reasons Coleman believes farmers are so taken with the app is that it will provide them with more opportunities and choices for distribution than they feel they have in today’s market. “More choice allows farmers to scale up their operations to do more sustainable farming,” he explains. “It gives farmers more choice on how they raise [livestock]. They won’t be forced to do whatever the industry is doing; they can choose their own path.”