A conversation with Tobias Joos, founder of Crowd Container, a new model for direct and 100% transparent exchange of sustainably produced agricultural goods in Switzerland. Tobias shares how they are shaping the marketplace by giving farmers more control over their products and how to sell them.
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How do we sell the full rotation of various products from a farm or an advanced agroforestry system? Diversified farms are amazing, but how do we sell all of that if you’re not going to a small local farmers market? What is the role of technology, platforms and predictive software?
Farmers’ Structural Disadvantage
There is a structural disadvantage that farmers experience which Tobias saw while working in a wholesale trade industry. While farmers have the soil, supermarkets largely decide the specification of the commodity. This hinders the capacity of farmers to diversify their products and is precisely what Tobias aims to solve.
“What happens is that we have this retail system with big supermarket retailers, where most of us buys our food. What you find on the supermarket shelf, as you said, is anonymized commodities; basically food that has a certain shape, a very clearly predefined shape.” -Tobias Joos
The Crowd’s Container
Supermarket buying commodities doesn’t always equate to consumer interest. This led Tobias to create Crowd Container, the organisation that acts as a direct link between consumers and producers. This results in higher quality food for consumers and higher commodity prices for farmers. Presently, Crowd Container serves as a bridge for Sicily, Kerala, and Switzerland farmers to have their produce delivered in delightful boxes to Swiss customers.
“The first pilot we did was to put online a box full of spices, cashew nuts, and coconut from some mixed crop agroforestry farms in the south of India, in Kerala. We were proposing this to people via a crowdfunding platform here in Switzerland, and just seeing whether there was a demand for it.” – Tobias Joos
Unbundling is Key
Despite the fast growth from its launch, Crowd Container struggled to retain its customers in the early run. By 2017, Tobias decided to create a platform where consumers can pre-order. Instead of selling items by boxes, they opt to sell the same products separately. Consumers now can customize their packages according to their needs. Another great thing about this, according to Tobias, is its full price transparency.
“We always wanted to work in very close partnerships with the farmers and not jump from one sourcing partner to the next one, because that wouldn’t help them in the way they produce.” – Tobias Joos
Forecasting People’s Demands
National policies can make platforms like Crowd Containers more accessible to the general public. Tobias emphasised the importance of getting quality and healthy food to reduce the risk of illness in the population. Also advanced technology that can forecast people’s demands will be beneficial to farmers to arrange their annual rotations, which they aim to achieve in the next two to three years.
“I hear again and again that many times, even though you can increase your yields, you can increase the quality you grow. That doesn’t always mean that you can easily sell your stuff.” – Tobias Joos
Other Points Discussed
Koen and Tobias also talked about:
- consumer awareness on both ecological and health aspects of food;
- innovation on farming equipment;
- state policy for true cost accounting.
To know more about Tobias Joos and Crowd Container, download and listen to this episode.
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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.