In recent years a new ethic has emerged among fruit and vegetable producers eager to bypass the usual system that goes through wholesalers and mass distribution purchasing centres. The image of farmers selling to supermarkets at a loss and dumping their produce on the tarmac has left a lasting impression.
In parallel, consumers have been in search of fruit and vegetables that taste good and are fresh, healthy and high quality. Farmers and consumers wanted to develop a direct system, which up till then was only available in markets. New distribution channels have emerged in recent years.
AMAPs (Associations for the protection of small-scale agriculture) are pioneers in this area and aspire to “encourage local, organic farming which is struggling to survive in the face of agri-business”, says Daniel Vuillon founding member of the concept in France. The consumer buys a basket of fruit and vegetables directly from the producer. This concept is spreading throughout all Mediterranean countries.
In the agro ecological market gardens of Shoul and Swani Tiqa (in the Salé region), Morocco, farmers and consumers enter into a contract where producers undertake to deliver one basket per week to families. Producers provide a basket of their produce and in turn, the consumer agrees to pick up his “basket” every week at the place of distribution. Transport and logistics are reduced to their simplest expression.
When banks are interested in direct selling
Selling fruit and vegetables through market gardeners and AMAPS is not suited to industrial organisation. It would be impossible to achieve economies of scale within this artisan system. The price of fruit and vegetables is generally higher than in supermarkets, despite cutting out the middleman.
In an industrial set-up, inspectors work hard to check the nature and quality of the fruit and vegetables they sell. Fruit and vegetables bought directly from the farmer does not fit with this almost mechanical system, but are equally monitored.
Tomatoes are less round, carrots are rougher…This is appreciated by socio-economic groups AB+, who are often “middle-class tree-huggers” in search of organic produce that is not standardised and was pulled from the earth a few hours before. Over the next decade, supporters of organic foods are set to become “locavores”, searching for producers close to home.
The Internet revolution in the 2000s has also opened up the field of possibilities to farmers looking for new business opportunities. Internet sites selling fruit and vegetables online have begun to flourish on the web.
Unlike appliances and textiles, fruit and vegetables, which have an extremely short lifecycle, lend themselves less easily to distance selling for many reasons: delicacy (in particular strawberries and raspberries), product seasonality, climate…not to mention that transport is an expensive service in an industry where margins are extremely tight.
Collecting from the farm or a market
Patricia Juthiaud, founder of paysans.fr, mainly works with producers in the Lot-et-Garonne region. “We apply a coefficient to the cost price, which includes product selection, order picking and home delivery. Orders over €80 do not include a delivery charge, we add €15 for orders below this amount. On about three quarters of the online fruit and vegetable sites the actual costs are not shown”, explains Patricia Juthiaud.
She nevertheless thinks that home delivery prevents people from using their cars to travel to the supermarket, which, according to her, helps reduce CO² emissions.
Paysans.fr delivers to its customers at home or at their workplace by Chronopost, throughout France, in chilled packages with ice inside, to be stored at 2º to 4º C. Packages are prepared the day before for next-day delivery. The company has its own refrigerated lorries to deliver in the South-West (with a capacity of thirty parcels) and uses a subcontractor for deliveries in Paris.
New in the digital world, website directetbon.com has been created on the initiative of the Banque Populaire who wanted to support the development of their farmer customers.
“For six years we have been observing two kinds of farming: large-scale operations with over 100 ha (82%) and small, diversified operations selling direct (18%)”, explains Mickaël Le Nezet, in charge of the agricultural market for la Banque Populaire.
Website Direct et Bon, set up in April 2011, federates the portals of farmers who are free to set their own rules of the game. “There are several options for delivery: colissimo parcel delivery, collection point, markets and collection at the farm. The portal offers direct access to 190 stores. Each producer pays €50 per month”, says Mickaël Le Nezet who aims to have 3,500 producers in four to five years.
Direct selling promoted in-store
In Perpignan, producers realised over twelve years ago there was an interest in setting up associations. Under the brand « Les Jardins de Perpignan » (The Gardens of Perpignan), Rousillon producers promoted the direct sale of fruit and vegetables to individuals (with online baskets), local authorities did the same with the “A piece of fruit at break time” and retail with events in supermarkets.
The latter is increasing its in-store promotion of locally bought produce.
They only represent 7% of fruit and vegetables sold by a supermarket. Local supply is provided either directly by the store or via the central purchasing agency, but in this case, fruit and vegetables undeniably lose their crispness after a stay in cold storage.
Salad producer, Michel Jonnart, based in Châteauneuf les Martigues, has been directly supplying Carrefour hypermarkets in the Paca region, with oak leaf and other lettuce for thirty years, from his 7-hectare farm. Selling direct is therefore not new, but now it is growing and is being widely promoted on supermarket shelves. In parallel, supermarkets are developing local shops and online sales including, of course, fruit and vegetables.
In order to minimise traffic, the Internet user can choose his delivery day.. Auchan.fr has now developed “smart slots”, which indicate that a delivery is already planned in the area.