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Local food tech startup gets federal boost for online wholesaling

Bay of Quinte MP Neil Ellis presented the funding at Thursday’s announcement at Three Dog Winery.

A food-tech start-up is receiving an investment of federal funds to expand access to wholesale markets for family farms and agri-food businesses in Prince Edward and Lennox and Addington counties.

“This is about preparing our region for the economy of the future,” said Bay of Quinte MP Neil Ellis, who presented the $10,000 in federal funding Thursday. “Partnerships like these are powerful tools for encouraging the expansion of our local food and drink production. It’s incredible how simply combining innovative new technologies with traditional agriculture and our local food and drink businesses will help to create even more jobs here at home.”

FreshSpoke, the food-tech venture, is tackling distribution challenges that have kept some farmers and micro-producers out of the wholesale market.

“Consumers are demanding more local and sustainable sourcing on the part of institutions, retailers and restaurants”, said Marcia Woods, CEO and passionate force behind FreshSpoke, “but the existing food system doesn’t make it easy or economical to buy or sell local food on a commercial scale.”

FreshSpoke’s platform connects local food producers with wholesale buyers using a set of online tools that simplify order, payment and delivery.

FreshSpoke’s web and mobile apps give institutions, restaurants and retailers a direct pipeline to fresh, local food, delivered to their door using a shared delivery system.

“Instead of putting more trucks on the road, FreshSpoke leverages the excess capacity that already exists in the delivery system”, said Woods. “This drives down costs and gives commercial drivers, including producers, the ability to earn extra income delivering local food.”

FreshSpoke appears to have struck a chord as some 300 wholesale GTA area businesses are now registered buyers with access to an online catalogue of more than 1,500 products from about 160 local producers.

FreshSpoke is expanding in Eastern Ontario and tapping into an investment from the Eastern Ontario Development Program (EODP) to reduce the costs for qualified producers from $1500 to $400.

The initial investment of $10,000 from EODP has been earmarked for “onboarding” of local farms and agri-businesses.

“Local food producers are very motivated to expand their wholesale businesses but most don’t have the time or resources required to do the set up on their own,” said Woods. “By sharing services like photography, videography and content writing, amongst a group of producers, it’s more economical and we get a professional result, better positioning our small and mid-size producers to compete against the bigger brands and imports.”

FreshSpoke’s sellers range from farmers and growers to breweries, wineries and artisans like Prince Edward County’s Three Dog Winery.

“There is something really unique coming together in our region and momentum building for small, local food producers,” said Sacha Square, owner of Three Dog Winery, which hosted a launch event on Thursday May 17. “FreshSpoke’s food security philosophy is right in line with our own.” It isn’t just here in Ontario that her message of interconnected producers is resonating, but also in New York, where FreshSpoke was recently awarded a place at the world’s leading food start-up incubator, Food-X, as they prepare to expand the venture founded in Canada across North America.

“We know there’s a growing wholesale market for products made here in Prince Edward County, but many small businesses are working to stay on top of our thriving tourism industry,” said Angela Miller, chair of the Community Futures of Prince Edward Lennox Addington. “Managing orders and deliveries takes a backseat to day-to-day operations.”

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