San Francisco-based online artisan food market Foodzie operates on a direct-to-Web consumer model in an effort to strengthen the relationship between sellers and consumers—all while providing the freshest food possible. The Foodzie team recently celebrated its first year in business, during which time it received $1 million in funding. Co-founder Emily Olson shares Foodzie's vision to help small producers to be a bigger part of the nation's regional food system.
Fast Company: What's your definition of sustainable food?
Emily Olson: At Foodzie, our definition of sustainable food is multi-dimensional. We believe that a truly sustainable food ecosystem requires a balance of economic, environmental, and social viability. We at Foodzie strive to help our producers build successful businesses (economic sustainability), source clean ingredients from local growers, utilize eco-friendly packaging (environmental sustainability), earn fair compensation for their products, and donate a portion of sales to local charities in their communities (social sustainability). We believe that these factors are inextricably bound, and greatly impact the sustainability of our food system.
FC: What would you say is the biggest challenge facing sustainable food right now?
EO: Economically, we need to ensure that our producers and growers are able to build sustainable businesses. This requires that small producers have the resources and access to bring their products to market. Environmentally, we need to encourage those same artisans to make responsible decisions about how they grow, produce, package, and distribute their products. Socially, we need to improve access to healthy and nutritious foods, and support fair compensation for foodmakers.
FC: How is Foodzie helping to boost sustainable food? If you could only make one recommendation to consumers regarding sustainable food, what would it be?
EO: Food production is a key part of our ecosystem and we're constantly trying to use technology to be more efficient and help businesses grow. For example, we often conduct interviews with our producers and growers on Foodzie's blog to give customers a better sense of what goes into the production of the goods shown on the site. Additionally, sellers have always been able to post their goods for free and Foodzie collects a 20% commission rate on all sales, meaning they end up with a much larger percentage of the sale than if they had turned to a larger retailer.
Consumers have the incredible power to "vote with their forks" three or more times per day. Help to increase the vibrancy and sustainability of your regional food system—go and support small, passionate food artisans!
FC: Would you say the recession has affected people's interest in buying locally grown and handmade food?
EO: Historically during recessions, people tend to cut out the vacations or eating out, but will treat themselves to the small indulgences. We definitely see people enjoying artisan chocolate bars, handmade caramels, and other items that fit into that category. We have seen the local food movement continue to grow through the recession; it's on track to have a similar growth rate that organic foods saw a few years back.
FC: Foodzie has been described as the "the Etsy of food" in that like the online craft fair, you're a virtual farmer's market. What sets Foodzie apart from similar businesses?
EO: The direct connection we have to the site's visitors. This isn't solely limited to consumers—we also have a traceable connection to the people making the food, and as a result, customers feel good that they're supporting a small producer. A lot of our sellers might just be getting started, or they may have a small local following and are looking to go beyond the few customers they have. Foodzie sellers also have the ability to produce items in small batches, and in turn, more opportunities to flex their creative muscles.
FC: Foodzie is just over a year old and has already accumulated 250 vendors and approximately 85,000 visitors per month. What factors go into your consideration of prospective sellers?
EO: We look for small businesses with an artisan way of creating products and an owner who is directly involved with the product creation. We also look for foods that are not mass-distributed and made with high-quality ingredients. Our team tests everything that goes on the site, sometimes even through community tastings in our office. This is important to us because if there's something that no one likes, it means something. And, of course, we look for great stories from passionate people—all key factors that go into making some of the best food you can find.
FC: Where did you get the idea for Foodzie?
EO: I was working as a brand manager at [specialty food chain] The Fresh Market and saw firsthand how hard it was for small producers to break into big retailers, even with their awesome stories and top-quality products. I wanted to make a place in which producers could directly connect with customers. This was challenging because the direct-to-consumer model is broken for small producers. There are so many middlemen like distributors and brokers—all of which come with fees. Simply getting products into the store is hardest part for sellers, as the current system inhibits small producers from making it into stores. Small producers are primarily focused on making the product, which is what they're good at. The marketing aspect takes a lot of time and getting out there is tough, which is where Foodzie comes in.
FC: What are some of Foodzie's bestsellers?
EO: One of the things that makes Foodzie so unique is that we offer many "undiscovered" products you usually can't find anywhere else, such as Gobba Gobba Hey treats (Whoopie Pie-like confections, called "gobs," made with all-natural ingredients and offered in exotic flavor combinations), which I was just munching on.
Another popular "Foodzie find" is Skillet Street Food's Bacon Jam—over the holidays, we literally sold a ton of jars of the stuff.
This spread is comprised of bacon, onion, brown sugar and spices, and is commonly smeared on burgers, scrambled eggs, or even used for "double-bacon BLTs." The name might seem strange, but if it has bacon in it, it'll sell.
FC: What did you have for breakfast today?
EO: It was a color-infused breakfast: I had a Naked Superfood "Green Machine" Smoothie and Gobba Gobba Hey's new Matcha Green Tea gob.