If you’re a farmer selling products directly to consumers, restaurants or retail locations, an Ontario company believes it can simplify your process with an online platform.
Local Line is an online selling platform for local food suppliers designed to help automate and streamline order fulfillment, inventory management and delivery. It started as a match-making service for small farmers and chefs in 2015; today, it’s a private online network for local food producers to do business online with their customers — like Shopify for local food.
“A lot of business today is still done by sticky notes and spreadsheets: the buyer doesn’t know what is in inventory, and it’s hard for sellers to communicate availability or new products,” says founder and CEO Cole Jones. “Local Line is a program where a farmer pays a small monthly fee to move off sticky notes and spreadsheets onto our system where they can communicate products, prices, and delivery information, accept orders, generate invoices and get paid for every order.”
The company also helps create new markets for farmers, like its partnership with Flanagan Food Service. This brought together local farmers looking for buyers with Flanagan’s customers demanding local food online into a simple, streamlined marketplace for restaurants where Local Line also organizes delivery.
Getting product to the customer is also an ongoing headache, and here too, Local Line has stepped in to offer services. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of coordinating with another farmer already making a delivery to an area, but Local Line also has relationships with over 40 different freight forwarders in Ontario from Canada Post and Purolator to logistics companies like Erb that can help facilitate shipping across the province.
And soon, their logistics offering will take on a new dimension, thanks to a new, year-long project with Scale AI, a federally funded supercluster focused on artificial intelligence.
“It’s like a ride share program for local food coupled with demand prediction,” says Jones, noting that currently most local food buyers require 24-hour turnarounds which are not helpful in aggregating orders and routing deliveries efficiently.
Local Line’s advantage, according to Jones, is that the company has enough data to make fairly accurate predictions — into the high 90 per cent range — about how much product will be sold from where and at what time of year, allowing the company to pre-set distribution routes and book shipments while that product is still in the ground.
Joe Grootenboer of River Bell Market Garden in Dresden received a cold call from Local Line about a year and a half ago and it has helped him change his CSA to an à la carte system with full choice for his customers. Through Local Line, his box subscribers can choose what they’d like in their boxes every week — and can pause their subscription if they’re on vacation for example.
“I had to try to please everyone so a lot of the more unusual stuff wasn’t generally in there, and I had trouble with customer retention because it was rigid,” he says. “It’s easier to please the customer now and I’m happier knowing people are getting what they want.”
The Mustard Seed Co-op, Hamilton’s only community-owned grocery store and Ontario’s largest consumer co-op, has been using Local Line for about a year for online ordering of their more than 300 products. Customers can also place special orders or large quantities of produce or a special holiday bag directly online.
“This has enabled us to have a broader reach beyond people who can come to our store as it also encompasses deliveries,” says Operations Manager Stacey Allen-Cillis. “It’s very user-friendly software and Local Line has a great support system. We are noticing ease of use for our customers as well.”
Chantal Lewington has been using Local Line for the last couple of years to market all of her family’s farm products and has started an online farmers’ market with four other local farmers to make it more convenient for consumers to access local products. They deliver their products to the Lewingtons, who handle packing and delivery in the West Nipissing, Sudbury and North Bay area.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase in sales and the automation has helped improve our workflow,” she says.
According to Jones, Local Line has “quite a laundry list” of future projects and ideas, all ultimately with the goal of increasing local procurement.
“At a high level, we want people to think of Local Line as an operating system for the local food supply chain — it’s not about commoditizing local food, but creating frictionless trade for farmers,” he says.
A free marketing handbook for farmers is available for downloading at localline.ca.