LONDON, Ohio — Fresh Fork Market in Cleveland, Ohio, is changing the rules of direct farm marketing.
Fresh Fork isn’t a farmers’ market or a co-op or a community supported agriculture program. It is a supply chain company that allows Cleveland-area farmers to compete for the business of local restaurants.
It works like this: When a farmer signs up with Fresh Fork, his products are posted on the company’s Web site, along with a price he sets. Cleveland restaurant owners can browse the site, selecting the products that meet their needs. Once a restaurant makes a purchase, the farmer is notified and Fresh Fork picks up the produce from the farm. It is then delivered to the restaurant within 24 hours.
The idea is to get local products into local restaurants.
Trevor Clatterbuck, Fresh Fork’s chief executive officer and head of sales, talked about his business at Farm Science Review Sept. 17.
According to Clatterbuck, restaurants want to buy local products, but it’s often difficult and time consuming to do so. And there are many farmers interested in the direct marketing of their products, but it can be tough figuring out where to start and finding time to do it.
With Fresh Fork’s Web site, farmers have a practical link to local restaurants.
After farmers set a price for their goods, Fresh Fork includes its markup before a product hits the Web site. Restaurant owners pay the total cost and producers pocket their full asking price.
There’s no cost for growers to list their items and they can update as often as necessary.
Farmers’ identities are disclosed to the restaurants in order to promote responsibility, Clatterbuck said. It also adds to the uniqueness of a product. The site allows farmers to market their products by explaining things like flavors, freshness and special varieties. The site includes pictures, descriptions and growing techniques.
The idea for Fresh Fork began in August 2007 at the Cleveland Entrepreneurship Immersion Week Business Concept Competition. Five young men — Matthew Szugye, Kyle Napierkowski, Bob Gavlak, Aaron Shaffer and Clatterbuck — developed the Fresh Fork concept that eventually won the contest. The business is now run by Clatterbuck, Napierkowski, Szugye, Gavlak and Ben Meck.
This summer marked Fresh Fork’s first season of delivery. It worked with more than 40 Cleveland-area restaurants and 25 suppliers.
Since the company’s main goal is to promote local food, everything sold through Fresh Fork is grown within a 75-mile radius of Cleveland.
While produce is Fresh Fork’s first product line, Clatterbuck hopes to see the offerings grow to include items like local goat cheese, eggs, beef and pasta.
The CEO said there are a few things for growers to consider before signing on with Fresh Fork. One important factor is ability. Think about what you’ve grown (and grown well). Once you figure out what you can grow, narrow your focus, Clatterbuck said. It’s better to specialize and do well with a few products rather than produce a large variety of poor-quality items.
One of the focal points of Fresh Fork is convenience. Through the company’s Web site, restaurants can get exactly what they need, even if those items come from 10 different farms. And farmers don’t need to manage a long list of clients or worry about billing — Fresh Fork is the only contact for growers.
The company operates on a two-day lead time, with orders placed by Sunday and Wednesday each week. Produce is picked up every Monday and Thursday and delivery to restaurants is always slated for Tuesday and Friday. The products are kept in a temperature-controlled facility overnight.
Clatterbuck said this type of set-up works for several reasons. Since the company holds no inventory, there is no cost associated with spoilage or running a large cooling unit seven days a week. And since the products are delivered within 24 hours of harvest, they have a better shelf life at the restaurant than products that travel long distances.
Although sales are not guaranteed through Fresh Fork, Clatterbuck said the company has a lot of benefits for growers, restaurants and consumers.
By providing a direct link from local farmers to local restaurants, Fresh Fork is helping connect agriculture back to the community.