When we talk about sustainability in our industry, we frequently do it alongside pictures of fluffy rare breeds roaming free over rugged countryside, or wide-eyed visiting chefs walking through verdant vegetable-filled greenhouses. The glamorous stuff. The stuff that is simple to convey.
But, as suppliers and company owners all know (and as consumers are increasingly aware, particularly due to conversations around rising costs), food supply chains are hugely complicated. Within those complicated structures are a plethora of opportunities to compromise the sustainability of the initial product.
That’s something few of us consider – it’s complex and expensive to address, and it just doesn’t have the glamour, accessibility and simplicity of message offered by a picture of a field of happy hens.
How do those happy hens reach our kitchen fridges? The farmer may care deeply about their land and their animals, but they face a problem when it comes to reaching those forward-thinking restaurants who care just the same. Your small-scale farmer may be driving their produce to all those caring restaurants in an old diesel van, making multiple stops between short distances. Those working on a larger scale might resort to a traditional wholesaler to manage the logistics; fleets of lorries arrive in the city at rush hour, spending all day on the road, keeping food cool on diesel-powered fridges. That contributes to traffic, congestion, and levels of carbon emissions that are at direct odds with the intentions and ethos of both the supplier and the consumer. It’s an uncomfortable fact that sustainability costs money. But what if it wasn’t up to them to shoulder that burden?
We so often think of our industry as being a community. In a true community, collective problems are solved through collaboration.
With strength in numbers, the solutions can be so much more imaginative – and so much more effective. The environmental impact of the last-mile delivery is something that Collectiv Food focuses on, and in working towards a lower-impact solution we found that they’ve solved other things too.
Founder Jeremy has a background in forensic accounting in Paris, when a food wholesale investigation left him struck at the state of supply chains – littered with opacity and malpractice, with little benefit to the producers and suppliers. All too often both farmers and restaurants have no access to the journey that their food goes through, from how and where it is produced to how and where it is enjoyed. That means a hugely fragmented supply chain, and it means that farmers and restaurants sit at different sides of the table.
Jeremy started Collectiv Food to put everyone back on the same side of the table, where they belong. It acts as the antidote to the fractured model, connecting producers directly with restaurants, cutting out wholesalers with high profit margins and sharing detailed information with their customers about every aspect of the production process, to empower them to make truly informed decisions about their buying, and the impact of their menus. Their constant focus is on fairness, transparency, traceability and sustainability.
The model is simple – producers deliver their products to a distribution hub just outside of London, based on Collectiv’s orders.
This ‘just in time’ model ensures minimum stock holding and wastage, and maximum freshness. From there, the consolidated orders are delivered to local ‘PODs’, refrigerated containers placed in key urban locations to avoid traffic and reduce emissions. Finally, the individual orders are collected by cargo bikes, electric vans and greener last-mile partners then delivered to your kitchen – the final mile.
Costs to the producers are lower, without the burden of complex distribution. Costs to the customers are lower, saving with collective bulk ordering and ensuring freshness, traceability and quality. Costs to the planet are lower, with up to 50% less CO2 and particulate matter emissions. Producers, from small-scale artisans to established farms, receive support in access and promotion to new markets who share their values. It’s true strength in numbers, and a strength that benefits everyone – on both sides.