A growing number of foodies are looking to the Internet to discover and order tasty gems. These are artisan food products that are manufactured in small batches, usually from organic, local ingredients. The mom&pop operations are very small, will never reach national distribution, and at best are sold at supermarkets in the close vicinity of the producer.
Though some artisans have an online website and ecommerce platform, many don’t have the time or tech savvy to manage such a geeky operation. Another problem they face is marketing. How do you get the world to know you make the best darn beef jerky, or that your organic boysenberry preserves are comparable to ambrosia?
The solution of course is online marketplaces. There are several websites operating online to choose from. Three of the more popular sites are Regional Best, Foodoro, and Foodzie. All three focus on non-perishable items and allow sellers and buyers to interact directly for a cut of the sale and/or a flat fee from the sellers. Another newcomer, Local Dirt, connects buyers and sellers of locally-grown produce and meat and dairy products.
We interviewed Marsha, co-founder of Regional Best to learn more about this growing segment.
[Fooducate] Tell us about your background.
[Marsha] Originally a farm girl from West Texas, I grew up on local food — my own family’s bounty of meats, fruits and vegetables. Currently living in suburban Philadelphia with my husband and two young teenagers.
[Fooducate] When and why did you start Regional Best?
[Marsha] My partner and I decided to combine our passion for great food and our extensive marketing and business backgrounds. We are committed to supporting local farmers, ranchers, fishermen and small companies across America. We launched Regional Best in July of 2008. We still consider ourselves a “new” company. We are continuing to grow, adding new artisans and customers ongoing.
[Fooducate] Your are committed to local producers, but on the other hand can ship a jar of honey across the country. How does that figure with the local food movement?
[Marsha] We ship anywhere in the Continental U.S. You can shop by region and state if you want to shop for artisans in your particular “neighborhood.” Products are shipped directly from the artisan to maximize quality and freshness. We work with each artisan to ship the most cost efficient way — Fed Ex, UPS, USPS. We also work with artisans to use minimal and recyclable shipping materials when possible. Most artisan products are produced in small batches and do not contain preservatives or artificial ingredients.
[Fooducate] Some of the meat cuts on your site run at $75 per lb and a half. Are all your items that expensive, or do you have affordable products for the average Joe as well?
[Marsha] We have hundreds of products and at all price levels. You will find organic peanut butter, granola, mini-organic pound cakes, decadent chocolates, jams, jellies and many more products for under $10. One of the best selling products is cinnamon creamed honey from Texas. By popular demand, we just started selling it by the case. It’s so delicious many people eat it with a spoon! In the grass-fed, all natural beef category we feature hot dogs, steak burgers and steaks. A huge 10 oz. flat iron steak, one of the most popular cuts, is $11.25. You will also find foods like Chateaubriand, Maine lobster tails and Idaho organic leg of lamb for holidays and special occasions.
[Fooducate] How has the recession impacted your business?
[Marsha] Few businesses haven’t been affected by the economy. We’re fortunate though that we offer some indulgent items that consumers feel it’s okay to splurge on like decadent candy bars and brownies. Plus, consumers seem to be giving up their daily Starbucks and brewing premium coffee at home. Sales have been good and we are confident we will have an even better holiday season.
[Fooducate] How are you different from your competitors?
[Marsha] There are several online artisan food markets. While we are indeed similar, for the most part, we offer foods from different artisans. There are so many awesome producers looking for a way to reach a broader national audience. RegionalBest.com looks for those local hidden treasures that are more exclusive and not widely available at retail or on other online markets. And, we think we have only scratched the surface! In addition, an important part of RegionalBest.com is telling the artisans story — how they got started and how they make or grow their products. An artisan personal profile and photo are featured along with their products.
[Fooducate] Thank you for your time.
Well, all we can say after browsing some of the tasty looking items on the Regional Best website, is that if these folks need a quality assurance tester, we’ll be happy to volunteer!
Help us test our new food comparison tool: alpha.fooducate.com