By Lilian Schaer for AgInnovation Ontario
Waterloo, ON – A new online platform is bringing chefs and farmers together and making it easier for Ontarians to access local food when they’re eating out.
Waterloo Region start-up Local Line has launched a website where chefs can buy top quality local food from farmers through an easy to use, time-saving system.
Farmers can set up their own profiles and promote their products, available quantities, delivery schedules and payment terms, as well as any particular production practices or certifications, directly to buyers.
“There is a lot of opportunity for local food to grow by more directly connecting local sellers and buyers,” says Local Line founder and CEO Cole Jones. “We talked to over 400 chefs and farmers and discovered both had almost the same issues and needs: simplified ordering and payment, and a way to communicate easily.”
On Local Line, chefs can browse the available farmer profiles and place orders directly through the site. They can also use the platform to make payment and have conversations with product sellers. The desktop and mobile-friendly system provides order and communications notifications instantly via email.
“Chefs struggle with ordering local food from many different suppliers at different times using different methods of ordering and payment,” says Jones. “Buying through Local Line gives a chef a single invoice payable through the site and a chance to build real relationships with their suppliers.”
Jones says they’re currently targeting their online service to farms, local wholesalers and producers of local food products, like small abattoirs and butcher shops, in the Kitchener-Waterloo-Guelph and Kingston areas.
“Kingston has over 100 restaurants in its downtown core and Prince Edward County is close by. It was our first time outside of our home market of KW-Guelph, so we’re testing and validating our concept outside of the home region,” says Jones.
Local Line charges suppliers a monthly subscription fee to participate in the site, with the first two months available for free; Jones’ theory is that it takes time to build lasting business relationships and he hopes suppliers will use the incentive to give the service a try.
Currently, Local Line has just over 50 registered buyers on the platform who use its tools to directly connect with their suppliers.
Growth and expanded user services are on the agenda for Jones and his small staff team, which includes programmers, a chef consultant and a food writer. Local Line has been part of the Wilfrid Laurier University LaunchPad business incubator in the Communitech building in Kitchener since 2014.
“Our focus is heavily on the product, which for us is our technology, because we want to build tools that will help our users better understand their businesses, not just something that lets them transact,” Jones explains. “As we’re expanding and enhancing our services, we’d love to hear from chefs and farmers about what would make their lives easier when it comes to buying and selling local food, to make this a better tool for them.”
And although the website will facilitate payment, Local Line doesn’t participate in transactions or get involved in product negotiations. They’re also not liable in cases of non-payment but will provide support to affected vendors.
“We are building this for farmers and chefs because we believe in local, and in healthy regional economies on many levels,” says Jones.