The Borettsalg hub is no longer active, but Myriam and Olivier have described the hub experiment they have been running for 6 months in 2015-2016, using the Open Food Network platform. We hope that will inspire other people to try and experiment new kinds of food hubs!

BorettSalg, a buying group in our building

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The initiative and objective

We live in Oslo, in the Grunnerloka area, in an apartment in a housing cooperative (borettslag) of around 50 apartments. So we sent an email to the members of the cooperative to propose them to join us in order to buy as a group directly to local organic producers. The idea was:

  • We decide together the catalog of products
  • We get delivered at home, or almost, in our building
  • On the delivery day, people come to our apartment to pick up their basket, and we propose everyone to bring something to drink or eat and we can share some time and chat, get to know our neighbors!
  • As we buy big quantities together directly to the producers, we get wholesale prices, so the products are 20 to 30% cheaper than in the stores. We are our own store in fact 🙂 Of course we said from the beginning that after we have tested the concept we might create a formal entity and take a margin to get paid for the coordination work.

So the idea was to create like a “micro-store” when the “clients” (more “members” at the beginning) would pre-order what they want, so we don’t manage a huge stock.

We had some positive answers, and also some friends joined the project, so finally we had a mailing list of around 40 people! All this with little to no communication or marketing.

Olivier and I wanted to experiment a model which can democratize access to local organic food and also support creation of independent economic activity. We would be individuals buying together directly to producers and cooperating to save money on logistics and get better deals by buying bigger volumes.

So that means:

  • The products need to stay affordable for everyone. If they are more expensive than in the stores people won’t change their habits.
  • People need to be able to choose what they want in their basket.
  • And we need to build a business model that enable the coordinator of the group to earn some money for the work done, if we want the initiative to be sustainable.

We conducted the initiative on a volunteer basis and had not created any legal entity. But we did set up a separate bank account to manage transactions (payment to suppliers and from consumers) and for transparency purpose to be able to separately report on the account of the initiative.

Our Suppliers

We were already in contact with some producers, like Vikabråten to whom we were buying cheese. And for others, we looked at the Oikos and Debio website and directory and also at the farmers working with Kooperativet, because we thought we could maybe mutualize the logistics when they come to deliver Kooperativet. We also talked to farmers on the Bondens Marked.

So finally we ended up with 7 producers willing to sell food to our small group of individuals. And I used the enkeltpersonforetak I had set up so that we can order dry goods to the organic distributor Norganic (we were prototyping a new kind of store so that made sense)

So here are the producers we were working with:

  • Alm Østre for vegetables and honey
  • Bergsmyrene Gård for eggs and some vegetables
  • Dyre Gård for apples and apple juice
  • Holli Mølle for flours
  • Vikabråten for cheese and sausages
  • And Norganic for dried products

The Shopfront

Here is how our group ordering page looked like:

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Only the people in our group could order, each one made its own order before a certain date, and Olivier and I were then sending the global order to the producers.

When clicking on the small pie near the price, you could see what mark-up we had add on the producer price to cover logistic costs (it was not really a markup but just a mutualization fund of the logistics cost) and we also agreed with the people in the group to collectively support the non-profit Altifrem, so we were putting in a common pot some money on each order to make a donation to the non-profit (3%). Again, officially we were just an informal group of people organizing themselves together to buy food directly to producers. As an experiment to maybe start something more formal.

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Logistics

The logistic fee was different for each product as every producer had its own transportation needs. So we had agreed with each producer about how the delivery would happen, and when we needed to make the order, how many days in advance:

– Alm Østre was driving usually at least once a week to Oslo. So before launching a new order cycle, we would call him and check with him when he would come in the coming weeks and sync our order cycle with him, because vegetables are the most fragile products and we can’t keep them long. A few times, he delivered us the same days as Kooperativet and in that case we shared the cost of transport with Kooperativet, which was an interesting mutualisation. Good both for the cost saving and to limit CO2 emissions.

– Bergsmyrene Gård: Finn’s wife was singing in a chor in the church next to our apartment, so she was bringing the products at the same time, the evening before the delivery.

– Dyre Gård was also coming once a week and delivering to our door.

– Holli Mølle: we needed to order a few days in advance, and they had a transporteur who was delivering all their customers once a week, so we were delivered to the door a few days before the pick-up.

– Vikabråten was sending the products through a transporter coming from Valdres once a week.

– Norganic: we ordered online and were delivered 2 to 3 days later.

One important thing to know:While coordinating our hub, I needed to be home on the day of the pick-up and the day before, to receive all the products. The transporters usually can’t tell precisely at what time they will arrive. Working as a freelance it was ok for me, I just didn’t planned meeting on those days and was working home. That’s why it’s convenient to have the pick-up point where you live, because you can be home to receive the products while doing other stuff.

Results and Lessons Learnt

On average, at each order cycle, around 15 people were ordering. Just for vegetables, we ordered every time more than 100 kg of vegetables.

We were also very happy to see that at each order cycle, people were staying a bit longer to talk to each other around a coffee. We felt this sense of community. Building projects together. Sharing values and thoughts. We were not “consumers” here, we were fellows. Activists. Hackers.

Some lessons learnt:

  • It takes time to build a community, actually it is only at the very end of the initiative (after the 5th and last order cycle) that people were starting to get really involved
  • You need enough space for packaging the order and welcoming people. It makes preparing orders easier and encourage people to share more of their time. We were doing all that in our kitchen and living room, it was ok for 15 people but we couldn’t have really welcomed more people. So if we would have gone to the next step, we would probably have asked a coffee place downstairs if we could use the space for the pick-up (and people would have had some drinks together, so that could be win-win.)
  • The OFN platform is still young and even if it is continuously being upgraded there are still some functionalities missing or potential improvements. It takes some time to streamline the full order cycle process and compensate for the platform deficiencies in a few areas (stock management for instance is not yet handled perfectly).
  • It is critical to have a responsive team to handle hosting issues (if the server is suddenly not responding for instance).

Business Model

From that experiment, we worked on a business model to see how the coordinator of such an initiative can earn a bit of money to make it a sustainable initiative, while the products remaining affordable.

Here are the figures we put together. This business model would need to be tested now for real. Unfortunately our personal journey now drives us back to France, so we won’t be testing this model in Norway, but hopefully some other people will!
For more info, contact Myriam (myriam[a]openfoodfrance.org).

 

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