The idea for AgLocal, an online platform that connects local farmers raising sustainable livestock to food-conscious consumers, was born in 2011.
Founder and CEO Naithan Jones brought a unique set of attributes and experiences to the company. His brother is a professional chef and his wife's family are ranchers. Jones himself has a background in enterprise technology.
He witnessed a trend in consumer behavior in which people were demanding more local, sustainable food and sought to create a mobile app that could connect consumers to family-run and independent farms, providing information about the families raising the animals, the animals' diets, living conditions and processing conditions and have the meat delivered to their door.
Farmers would use AgLocal to list their available meat, include photographs of their operation and descriptions of their sustainable practices. Consumers would shop on AgLocal and purchase their meat directly from the farmer.
The idea was so ingenious, the company began getting press even before they’d launched. "That's how we knew we were really onto something," says Jones. The press attracted the attention of a large meat distributor who had 3,000 restaurants on their roster and sought to partner with AgLocal. "It was like a free lunch. I can press this button here, partner with these guys and I'm scaling in New York City immediately," says Jones of the opportunity.
While it seemed like an incredible chance to grow the company faster than originally planned, it meant a pivot away from its original vision of connecting consumers with an appetite for sustainable food with independent and family ranchers.
When the relationship with the meat distributor crumbled, AgLocal was forced to reconsider their business plan. "What I didn't consider was that the novelty of the initial idea was the true innovation of it. Looking back now, we probably should have just started slower and innovated on the initial idea," admits Jones.
The cost of acquisition of chefs turned out to be incredibly high and AgLocal was being undercut by larger meat wholesalers. The company’s sales team was reaching out to restaurant owners, trying to sell them on the idea that consumers would want to eat meat from farms they could learn about through AgLocal’s app. Jones recognized AgLocal was talking to the wrong audience. "We needed to go directly to the consumers. That’s where the value was," he says.
While the company had hired an expensive sales force to target restaurants, the cost of acquiring an individual consumer was much lower on the Internet. Individuals had already approached AgLocal asking whether they too could use the service to purchase their family’s meat. "You hear from advisors all the time: 'Don’t talk to the business, let your business talk to you.' We had people sending notes saying let me know when you decide to go consumer-direct," says Jones.
After pivoting away from their original idea, AgLocal has now come full circle and is launching a new consumer-based platform in April 2014. The subscription service will provide custom meat boxes including a grill-lover box with cuts suited for a barbecue grill, a home-cook box with meats for stews and roasts, a fitness box with lean meats for Paleo dieters and cross-fit buffs. Interest is already growing, with consumers already signed up, even before the launch.
Jones is proud his company is returning to its original roots and says of the company’s full-circle swing: "We had a moment where we had to say to ourselves, it’s never too late to go home."
[Image: Flickr user United Soybean Board]