When this journalist emailed me the question about why e-commerce I jumped up on the soapbox. Hitting "send" I thought some of what had spewed out of my fingertips was pretty good. Of course, her article was neither the time nor place. So here I'll paste the end part climax-resolution of my email response to her for those of you who like this kind of thing:
" The attempt to avoid supermarkets is a gamble, innit? If only we could avoid commercial trader middlemen altogether. How necessary are they in the internet era? We'll find out soon enough. It isn't about volumes or timing or critical mass. It is about reinforcing the human relationships in these most fundamental human activities of producing and consuming food. I know it sounds sappy, but we should care about each other and make an effort to enjoy interacting with each other.
When I first moved to France a market vendor sold me some rotten fruit. I told my wife "I'll never go back to that merchant again." My (french) wife told me, "No, you go back to him, look him in the eyes and say that you expect good fruit this time. He'll see you aren't just an anonymous one-time customer and he'll take care of you from now on. That's how it works here." That lesson sank in and I see it isn't just France it's human. The eater and the producer are both just anonymous, replaceable and psychologically weak dust-motes in the world of giant retail. I know because my sister's job is analyzing grocery store check-out and loyalty-card data to put consumers into categories for strategic marketing. Yep, she's part of the evil empire :)
E-commerce combined with simple word-of-mouth in circles of trustworthy friends should be enough to get a good product to market, and the only real way these days if it's about long-term vision rather than faddish novelty marketing innovations. Obviously the word has to get out. That's what Amanda is trying to do. The retreats are good for that because those people are clearly interested in nutrition and they'll want to know about this. No, food service is not a goal in itself, just an obvious way to get the word out to people likely to be interested.
What producer of a branded daily food item wouldn't dream of being supported and encouraged by enthusiastic, loyal communities of intelligent people who truly love the product in its various dimensions? You've got all these marketeers trying to get that love, but it seems pretty simple to me: the product has to be honestly good and the communication has to be direct. All the tricks of the marketing trade might work most of the time on most of the people, but some of us are just getting increasingly cynical. Demanding a million different certifications and logos like "sustainable palm oil" and whatnot will never ever satisfy the consumer's longing for good behavior all along the food chain. I'm convinced that we only get the real nourishment we need from direct, regular relationships with food producers. That's why I want to go direct via e-commerce. I make this stuff. I watch it go from seed to box. I want to see first hand how people react. Will they like it? I actually care about the answer on a level beyond simply earning a living.
Now, shipping costs on small online orders are every bit as high as retailer margins, so for cost-effectiveness I'm hoping consumers will form little informal, non-professional groups, where a Quinoa Crack "dealer" buys in bulk and distributes boxes to the others who went in on the purchase. To the extent these groups get big the unit cost is going to get low. And can you imagine the relationships? Some groups might have a lot of fun with this. Two friends might see each other a little more often and take the time for a cup of coffee when the cereal box changes hands. Could start doing it for many products from small producers.
Or maybe it will flop. As I tell Amanda, most of my ideas are not worth the calories my brain consumes to come up with them. If this e-comerce + word-of-mouth + dealer concept proves stupid we'll grudgingly crawl to the retailers and beg them to take us in. But since this is just the launch I'm determined to give plan A a chance.
Hoping this response was not too long or self-destructive