Written by Isaac Nguyen
Traditionally, a food brokerage is a company that represents different food brands and leverages its own network to scale sales and marketing. My new approach to food brokerage comes from my tech experience and my international travels in Colombia. As an up and coming broker, I’m bringing in digital literacy to innovate the space and using technology like cloud services to manage customer data, ecommerce, and social media strategy to build an omnichannel sales system, and implementing machine learning bots to solve the problems of supply chain management and inventory waste management.
As I build out Artisan Wyn, my focus is on empowering the BIPOC food entrepreneurs. As the middleman in negotiation for trade and distribution, my job is to understand every part of the food system so that I can efficiently navigate deals between the producers and customers. This extends into a myriad of services including client management, supply chain management, distribution, and volume management.
The missing piece is not enough folks in the food systems space, especially BIPOC, are thinking of omnichannel marketing strategies in the digital realm. Most try to go straight for a retail space and in doing that, they are putting the nail onto their coffin. Without leveraging prior sales figures nor being aware of all the hidden fees that go into listing their product, food entrepreneurs will actually go broke before making it to the coveted retail space. Potentially, this can bankrupt their business. In essence, I work as a consultant to help educate my client on different sales channels such as CSAs, or online marketplaces such as shopify. This is due to historically marginalization and a lack of access to information and digital literacy.
COVID made me realize why I needed to create this food brokerage. As we shifted to quarantine restrictions, the food industry was hit the hardest. Food insecurity became the forefront issue during the pandemic and I felt the need to take action. I started volunteering that summer at Soltree Alchemy to distribute organic produce to the neighborhood of west Oakland. As I continued to work alongside them, they needed someone in San Francisco to help with picking up the donations from the SF farmer’s market at Fort Mason, and that’s where I met with all the farm vendors. On one fateful day, there wasn’t anyone beside me who was able to pick up the food donations and I decided to branch out from the usual farm stands and speak with Matteo from Avila Farms. It was an exceptionally windy day at the farmers market and Matteo was the only one working at the Avila Farm booth. I came up to him and asked if he had any leftover produce to give for donations and he replied that he would be glad to assist but would need help cleaning and packing up his inventory. And so without a second thought, I decided to help him out and befriend him. Afterwards, he asked me if I could show up on Sundays to help him with his business and I agreed. From that day forward, I was learning about the food systems on a micro level when dealing with customers at the Fort Mason Farmers market and listening to all of Matteo’s struggles and challenges as a Farmer.
Trained in Travel
Once I landed in Colombia, I noticed a difference in food systems. There were a lot more street vendors and fruit carts or fruit stalls. People would use microphones to advertise their products as they pushed their carts filled to the brim with avocados the size of a baseball.
As compared to the farmers market in America, the Plaza Minorista is a collective Colombian food experience that operates daily and is the heart of the community in Medellin. The space itself is a mega warehouse where you’ll find your wholesale deals. Imagine the Colobian version of Costco except with more exotic fruit and vegetable options.
In Colombia, delivery is dominated by a service called Rappi, where everything is delivered by people on motorcycles making it more cost effective than the Uber eats model using cars. For a time, there were others in the competitor space like Uber Eats, but they all fell because Rappi has an extended reach in the Colombian markets. Currently, Rappi holds 60% of the total market share in terms of food delivery apps which is followed by its next competitor, domicilios, at 26%; it’s no surprise that it has become the de facto way of life. So I think for a future system in the food systems space, food orders and groceries can be automated so that food entrepreneurs can more efficiently deliver their product with or without a retail space.
I found a glimpse into the future of revolutionizing the food system when I came into contact with a startup company, Lastfood, whose founder, Miguel, uses machine learning from an automated bot software designed to take orders en masse from customers that want food at a reduced price. The process is fairly simple, the customer messages the business on Facebook/Whatsapp/Instagram and the bot then responds with the options and processes their order with the restaurant, this in turn helps restaurant owners sell off their food that would’ve otherwise gone to waste. And because this concept has been proven to work in the Colombian food systems, it has the potential to innovate the food systems in the United States and potentially internationally.
During my travels to the rural part of Colombia, I met a family who owns a dehydrated fruit and yogurt company. One of the owners, Javier, gave me a tour and shared samples of their dried fruit and dried fruit teas. They have been established in the Colombian markets for the last 20 years, but now their goal is to expand to international markets. A partnership was forged between myself and Sensafruit to import their fruit products over to the US.
My goal is to disrupt the current food systems model by applying what I’ve learned in digital fluency and my experiences in Colombia to build an efficient network between BIPOC entrepreneurs, producers, vendors, distributors, as well as software developers.