“We believe that change is needed in the way we consume and produce food. We don’t pretend to have the answer to what that change should be. It’s complicated. However, we see huge benefit in reducing the carbon footprint of our consumption by sourcing food locally wherever possible. Huge sense in the notion that by bringing communities together, the communities themselves will drive the changes needed. Great optimism in the prospect of ‘connected food community’ empowering producers with the kind of support they will need if they are to meet the challenge of keeping us in great food and drink.”
We want local food, but where do we find it? How do we learn the story behind who and how it was produced? The easiest answer is farmers markets- one of the few opportunities most of us have to connect with farmers and food artisans. But how many of us actually understand where that food comes from? And what about small food producers- do farmers markets help them build brand loyalty and a supportive food community?
Meet Mark Spofforth, co-founder of Lovefre.sh, a new location based mobile application that connects consumers with local food producers. Spofforth and co-founder Geoff Tidey, are using their gaming background to create a tool that helps people tell their local food story through features such as comments, pictures, and audio recording when checking-in at a local food producer. Sites such as Real Time Farms and Food Sprout allow us to map and tell the stories of our local food systems. Lovefre.sh takes this one step further by using rich media features to crowdsource an augmented landscape of local food and drink.
We are thrilled to have Lovefre.sh showcasing at the upcoming IdeaCOMM, the interactive farm-to-table lunch we are hosting at SXSW. Attendees will be using the app to photograph dishes, as well as capture short interviews with producers, chefs and other attendees. By doing so, attendees will help create an audio storybook of the IdeaCOMM food community. We are excited to see what kind of stories we can all collect!
Danielle Gould: What is the inspiration behind Lovefre.sh?
Mark Spofforth: I’ve always enjoyed finding great food and drink from local producers – both at home and whilst travelling. I’ve often been frustrated that it’s not easier to locate. When my wife and I married, we tried to source all our food locally, to re-connect with the community she had left behind when she moved away from home. It was difficult, but we managed it with a lot of phone calls and a long search.
I had the idea for Lovefre.sh – a simple tool to use GPS to share local food tips. I imagined being able to switch on the device any time, anywhere, and see what was good and fresh in any given place – recommended by people. At the time, smart phones with GPS were not so common. As the tech moved on, so did my urge to build what I believed could be a great tool to connect producers and their communities.
When I moved to the dairy farmland of Cheshire and struggled to find a local producer of Cheshire Cheese, my desire to build an app to fix my ‘pain point’ grew.
In June 2010, I shared the Lovefre.sh idea with my good friend, Geoff Tidey. He had decided to move on from his career designing and building software for Satellite Information Services (SIS) and didn’t take much persuading. We began work building Lovefre.sh the next day.
We are driven by a desire to connect consumers and producers in a completely transparent way, to create a world food platform, to create tools that empower communities and producers and drive food change, through a new way to discover and buy fresh local food.
DG: How are you using information technology to innovate the way we produce, consume and interact with food?
MS: Our app has GPS technology at it’s core. It allows us to build a rich media augmented landscape of food and drink, with it’s camera and audio support. Currently, it functions well as a tool for people to tell their local food story – and others to discover great local food for themselves.
We’ve launched with our ‘minimum viable product’ but our plans are extensive.
We’re building a framework for local producers to thrive under. We want it to be easy for producers to sell direct to customers, if they wish. Easy for farmers to build a supportive community, by telling their story through the year; giving them more choices when it comes to harvest. We want children to grow up feeling connected to their food supply, to know the seasonal harvests and to celebrate what’s good nearby, before they feel the need to search further afield for imported goods.
We’re also realists. We know people demand choice and that the global food market is complex, so we don’t suggest ‘local’ is the only answer – just part of it.
We believe that change is needed in the way we consume and produce food. We don’t pretend to have the answer to what that change should be. It’s complicated. However, we see huge benefit in reducing the carbon footprint of our consumption by sourcing food locally wherever possible. Huge sense in the notion that by bringing communities together, the communities themselves will drive the changes needed. Great optimism in the prospect of ‘connected food community’ empowering producers with the kind of support they will need if they are to meet the challenge of keeping us in great food and drink.
DG: Why do you think people want to tell their local food story? How does Lovefre.sh motivate them to do so?
Lovefre.sh appeals to our social, altruistic nature. It’s innate and powerful. We believe customers of great producers, want to show their support and love of those producers. Our food producers are often unsung heroes. We believe those producers will enjoy keeping their community up to date with regular updates as their story unfolds. We think the serendipity created by our forthcoming social features will be compelling and rewarding, leading people to appreciate why they should check-in. Not to mention the great local food they will begin to discover as others check-in and tell their story.
We’re not relying on this alone. When someone checks in with the app, they earn points. These points are location sensitive. Producers will be able to easily create bespoke loyalty schemes to incentivise customer loyalty – and to build community. Consumers will benefit from reduced costs while producers thrive with increased business. Currently we’re rewarding our most active users with swag such as t-shirts and re-usable shopping bags. Small tokens of love.
DG: What’s your business model?
MS: With transparency a very important priority for us, we are advertisement free, refuse to consider ‘promoted checkins’ and prefer to offer a simple, useful PRO toolkit, for a fixed monthly fee.
Our PRO package costs $15/£10 a month, a simple useful service for one fixed price. It includes tools that allow food and drink businesses to establish a rich and social online web-presence in minutes, communicate with their customers and the web, plug in to our ‘Rewards and Offers’ tool, maintain a list of what’s fresh and good at their place, and curate favourite photo’s and audio from their location, to their Lovefre.sh profile.
DG: How will you be incorporating gaming mechanics into Lovefre.sh?
MS: In addition to the Points system I’ve already mentioned, we are developing a series of ‘unlockables’. We’re all keen gamers and have drawn on our experience here. We’re very excited about it. They tend to require an element of co-operation between the producer and their customer. We don’t want to give too much more away about this element. It’s a work in progress but we’ll be launching our first unlockable at the same time as our PRO package.
DG: Why are you participating in IdeaCOMM?
MS: We are a bootstrapping start up team of 5. We are all based in the UK and it is possible for us to start the ball rolling with checkins across the country, showing others how the app works. We do not have this opportunity in the USA. IdeaCOMM offers us a valuable opportunity to showcase our app there. We were keen to participate at IdeaCOMM because of it’s interactive, engaging format. We relish the chance to begin telling the American local food story in Austin. It’s a really good opportunity to show people interested in Food and Tech connections how we’ve ripped up the old, noisy, directory and replaced it with a beautifully simple, location aware, empowering tool.