Guest post by Paul & Kendra Rasmusson, Co-founders of Farmhouse Market on using technology to build an unstaffed grocery store to bring health, organic food to rural communities. This post is part of our Internet of Food Series. The views expressed are are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Food+Tech Connect.
Rural communities around the world are facing a similar problem: a lack of access to healthy, high-quality food. Grocery stores in many rural communities are struggling to keep their doors open as a result of high operating costs and low profit margins. Because research indicates a strong correlation between diet-related disease and a lack of access to healthy foods, rural communities are hungry for a solution to this serious problem.
If only there were a way to increase the profitability of the rural grocery store…
Farmhouse Market is the first of its kind, technology-focused grocery store that, although primarily-unstaffed, is open 24/7 to its members. While not a co-operative, it does employ a member-driven business model, encouraging community residents to purchase a membership in exchange for a 5 percent discount on every purchase.
Farmhouse Market utilizes technologies like a keycard entry system, a 24-hour remote video surveillance and self-checkout to allow its members the ability to shop 24/7 without having to staff the store around the clock. The shop is staffed three days per week for three-hour intervals, during which time non-members are able to shop, too. This business model allows for one person to easily manage and staff the store without requiring them to live on-site or staff the store 60+ hours a week. Through technological advancements like remote video surveillance, the manager can keep a bird’s eye view on the store from afar and track inventory and sales with a few clicks on their smartphone.
More than making food accessible in rural communities, we are committed to making healthy food accessible in rural communities. While we do work with larger natural foods distributors to round out our product offerings, Farmhouse Market hangs its hat on working directly with local farmers and food producers who adhere to growing and food production practices that produce high-quality products. By sourcing food locally from trusted sources, we can better ensure our products are safe, fresh (often picked the same day!) and have passed through as few hands – and traveled as few miles – as possible.
Making healthy food convenient is a good start, but making healthy food affordable is the real dilemma. By using technology to reduce operating and staffing costs, Farmhouse Market makes it once again feasible (and profitable!) to operate a grocery store in a rural community. This profitability allows for some flexibility in pricing practices, which can be extended to consumers. By offering competitive pricing with larger, retail chains and a 5% discount on member purchases, Farmhouse Market can make healthy food options available and affordable to rural communities.
Farmhouse Market opened its pilot location in New Prague, Minnesota in October of 2015. Its opening immediately sparked interest in other rural communities around Minnesota. Farmhouse Market’s technology-based business model could be replicated in any similar rural community around the world, providing for added buying power and increased economies of scale ensuring healthy, safe and sufficient food for more and more people around the world.
Internet of Food is an editorial series exploring how we might use technology, new business models and design to guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone. Join the conversation between March 23 and April 29. Share your ideas in the comments, on Twitter using #internetoffood, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn, and follow the conversation by subscribing to our newsletter.
Paul & Kendra Rasmusson, Co-founders of Farmhouse Market
Paul and Kendra Rasmusson are the co-founder of Farmhouse Market, a small local and organic foods market that works directly with local farmers and food producers in addition to natural foods distributors to make the good food you want to eat more accessible close to home. Although Paul’s education lies in advertising, his profession is banking and finance. Kendra received her undergrad and master’s degrees in business communication and operates a small marketing consulting business in addition to managing the day-to-day operations of Farmhouse Market.
Ultimately Paul and Kendra’s passion behind Farmhouse Market came when their 2-year-old daughter was diagnosed with epilepsy. Knowing that diet alterations can help some battling seizures, they decided they owed it to their daughter – and anyone else seeking health – to make good food available where it wasn’t previously.