The Greenbelt Fund recently employed the consulting firm Millier Dickinson Blais (MDB) to engage its key stakeholders as it considered the possible expansion, development, and improvement of the Ontariofresh.ca website as well as potential directions and opportunities in the context of these consultations. The following is a summary of the feedback received from 160 stakeholder participants and the potential strategic directions that emerged through the process. To provide us with feedback on these potential strategic opportunities, take our survey!
The engagement process for this project consisted of three components: an online survey, focus group sessions, and semi-structured interviews. A total of ninety-six Ontariofresh.ca users filled out the online survey over a two-week period in May 2014, with questions focused on the current use and effectiveness of the site as well as future ideas. Focus group sessions were held with approximately forty industry stakeholders in Guelph, the Greater Toronto Area, Port Stanley, and Kemptville. The sessions included growers, processors, buyers, and distributors. The final component of the consultation process was fourteen semi-structured interviews with farmers and individuals working in marketing, food distribution, and food hubs.
Ontariofresh.ca has made a positive economic impact on 36% of online survey respondents, ranging from 22% who had under $1,000 in sales or purchases to 4% who had generated over $20,000 in transactions. Respondents were also asked if the sales, purchases, or relationships established through Ontariofresh.ca were one-time arrangements or longer-term contracts. 27% of respondents indicated that arrangements were made using longer-term contracts and 74% of respondents indicated that transactions were one-time arrangements.
General Site Feedback
Feedback from the online survey, consultations and interviews showed Ontariofresh.ca users are finding the site useful to market their products, search for local businesses, network, and find industry information and resources. According to the online survey, users (55%) are using the site on an occasional basis, with 21% of respondents using it weekly. 79% of respondents like the appearance of the site, while about 76% of respondents were happy with its functionality.
Most of the constructive feedback received from the consultation process spoke to site navigation and user-friendliness needing improvement to make it easier and faster to find new connections on the site. As a result of this feedback, Ontariofresh.ca is currently making improvements to the site to streamline the homepage and simplify search function as well as make the site mobile-friendly. This update will be released in October 2014.
STRATEGIC DIRECTION AND ACTIONS
The Greenbelt Fund’s objective in undertaking this project has been to determine future strategic directions and opportunities for the Ontariofresh.ca website. During the consultation process, two ideas emerged numerous times as having the most value for the site’s member businesses: marketing and distribution.
E-commerce was originally put forward as a possible direction for Ontariofresh.ca, but MDB found that most stakeholders and users were not interested in an e-commerce platform on the site. Some members felt that having an e-commerce component would be a duplication of efforts by other companies and many had concerns with the various pricing models discussed, particularly on the supply-side. For example, respondents felt that a transparent marketplace in which buyers can compare suppliers will drive prices down with no consideration for the quality of a product, while at the same time, they were not comfortable with a closed marketplace in which only the buyer could see products and pricing. Other barriers noted were the level of engagement needed from farmers to maintain real-time inventory and product information, concerns about how the quality assurance of products could be achieved, and that the creation of an e-commerce marketplace would only serve a very small segment of Ontariofresh.ca’s diverse membership, meaning that the return on investment (ROI) was far too low to consider it a viable option.
One area in which e-commerce was considered most viable as an option in the future was to aggregate inventory and price information for food hubs or product aggregators only. Many of the barriers sited above could be circumvented in this case because food hub managers are already actively using online programs for inventory and price management, food safety protocols and marketing. Overall, there was a high level of interest in Ontariofresh.ca having a role in bringing together regional food hubs and facilitating connections between them. This facilitation (whether in person or online) will be considered over the long term as the more and more food hubs across the province become operational.
Advanced Marketing and POS Materials Package – Short Term
Most small and medium-sized farms and processors generally do not have the time or money to market their products effectively. During the consultations, numerous stakeholders brought up the potential of Ontariofresh.ca offering affordable marketing and POS materials to farmers, distributors and restaurants to promote local, Ontario food. These materials could include a downloadable and customizable business profile, where a co-branded PDF template with the user’s logo, name, and information could be downloaded on the fly right off the website. These templates could include brochures, labels, postcards, business cards, posters, and pamphlets. Restaurants and distributors could then download this information as well to advertise grower partnerships to their customers. Other potential services associated with this marketing package could be business profiles showing higher in Ontariofresh.ca search results, as well discounted rates on numerous items such as video and photography production, printing services, tradeshow events, and on advertising in industry/trade publications.
Online Distribution Route Map – Medium Term
There was overwhelming interest in Ontariofresh.ca having a role in facilitating distribution and logistics. Distribution and logistics is seen as a large barrier to market entry for small to medium sized farms. Ontariofresh.ca could have a role in providing that coordination through the website, giving farmers access to affordable and flexible distribution services while leveraging the wheels already on the road. Truck owners and delivery companies could useOntariofresh.ca to map routes that they are already taking and bring in extra revenue for themselves by filling up unused space on their vehicles. Days, times, type of truck, food safety certifications and available space on truck would need to be provided and mapped, and then users looking for distribution could book space on that truck right on the Ontariofresh.ca site.