The entrepreneurs who launched an online food network in Ireland this week have breathed new life into an old warehouse to connect customers with local food producers.
Jack Crotty, who runs The Rocket Man salad and juice bar on Cork’s Prince’s Street, and his business partner, Martin Poucher, have re-modelled the 18th century Munster apple market building on the city’s Barrack’s Street as a central collection point for their NeighbourFood venture, which claims to offer producers multiples of the return offered by some supermarkets.
Their network connects customers with local producers to ensure they're never out of their favourite humous, cheeses, meats, breads or olive oils. But it also allows people to buy non-food projects too - such as kindling and Christmas wreaths - as long as they are made locally.
Mr Crotty said he first saw the concept in Italy and decided to replicate it here. Mr Poucher developed the software and thanks to an incredible stroke of luck, it was ready just as efforts to create a similar network in England collapsed last summer. They stepped in with their software which now underpins an expanding network of NeighbourFood markets across England. It went live in Ireland this week.
Mr Crotty said: “It’s not easy pulling it all together. You have to find producers, find local hosts, and then you need to win customers over, and it all has to come together at the same time."
The network allows local producers to pool together to form an online shop for collection from a central hub a few days later. The NeighbourFood Cork order deadline is Sunday evening, with collection from the apple market, behind O’Sho Bar (formerly the Brown Derby), between 5pm and 7pm every Tuesday. The producers will be there to meet customers and tasting nights will be organised.
Mr Crotty said the network will not replace farmers' markets which each have their own special attractions: “We are not in competition with farmers' markets. This is another way for local producers to reach new customers. Sometimes, getting into supermarkets looks like the only way but it isn’t. We are trying to show that there are other routes to market for small producers. Crucially, it offers a fair price for producers - in the region of 80% rather than the 15-20% offered by some supermarkets.”
Among the Cork producers listed are The Rocket Man himself, Nash 19, SOMA, Arbutus Bread, Banana Melon Kitchen and Applebee Bakes.
Visit neighbourfood.ie to sign up as a producer, host or customer.