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October 27, 2020

Portland-based Forager partners with Mass. supermarket chain

several shelves of vegetables with hand-written cards with prices in front of them Image / Forager video screen shot Forager, which connects local food suppliers with stores, has partnered with Massachusetts supermarket chain Roche Bros.

Forager, a Portland startup that connects local food producers and their markets through an online platform, has partnered with Massachusetts chain Roche Bros. Supermarkets.

The partnership with the 21-store chain is the latest significant partnership for the three-year-old Forager, which also partners with Rosemont markets, the Maine Department of Corrections and MaineHealth in Maine, as well as a variety of individual food co-ops, markets and restaurants in northern New England.

The partnership also comes as the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the food supply chain, with even more consumers looking for local healthy food, both Roche Bros. and Forager officials said in a news release. 

The partnership allows the two companies to build an alternative supply chain for Boston-area food buyers that can become a model for grocers who want to meet consumers’ growing demand for locally sourced food.

“We are really excited to see a grocer of Roche’s caliber and reach who understands the shopper demand for high-quality local food and is innovating to meet that need,” said David Stone, Forager founder and executive chairman.

The Roche Bros. chain, which is based in Mansfield, Mass., has stores throughout the Boston area., trading under the names Roche Bros., Sudbury Farms and Brothers Marketplace.

A finger pointing to a key on a digital tablet, with the screen on the tablet showing the price of apple butter and an order for it
Screenshot / Courtesy, Forager
Forager's app allows food producers and farmers to input their information and prices, which can be accessed by buyers.

Digital platform opens access

Stone said that through Forager's work with hundreds of farms and suppliers, as well as grocers, it "uniquely understands the significant challenges in local sourcing and does all the heavy lifting to allow Roche to build and scale the best possible local food program in the greater Massachusetts market.” 

Forager's digital platform is free for producers, who input their product information, including prices, availability and more. Buyers — grocers and co-ops — pay a fee to join, and order from local producers through the platform, which also keeps track of things like inventory, sales trends and more.

The process streamlines the procurement-to-payment process for both the buyers and the producers. Producers can connect with local stores and co-ops more easily, and the stores and co-ops have more access to what's available locally.

Roche Bros. stores will be able to access data on suppliers in the store chain's area, so individual stores can more efficiently manage who they get their local products from, and find new suppliers, "allowing Roche stores to become the launch pad for new or up-and-coming local brands without adding additional overhead," the release said.

Survey: Demand for fresh local food grows

In a recent survey of 1,000 consumers, Forager found 85% would switch grocers or buy more food from a grocer that offered more fresh local food. That's up 78% from a previous survey. Roche Bros. cited the study in announcing the partnership.

a head and shoulders shot of a smiling man looking off to the right, with his glasses propped on top of his head amidst a mass of curly salt and pepper hair, and wearing a blue shirt
Courtesy / Forager
David Stone, Forager founder and CEO

“Consumer mindset has shifted dramatically in recent years and we’re hearing from customers that local, healthy and sustainable options are a key priority when shopping,” said Linda SanGiacomo, vice president of marketing at Roche Bros. 

"Forager is unparalleled when it comes to providing the experience and tools to help us source, scale and bring our stores the best quality local products. This enables us to build our leadership position in local, as more shoppers look to support producers in their communities to feed their families.”

The study also found:

  • 91% of respondents say it is important or very important to feed their family fresh healthy food right now;
  • 96% agree that locally grown and produced food is the freshest, healthiest and most nutritious food available;
  • 76% would prefer that their grocer buy food directly from local farms over third-party distributors.

Forager was launched in March 2017, and quickly caught on. It was named in August 2017 by Forbes Technology Council as one of eight startups across the country most likely to make a splash. 

Stone told Mainebiz at the time that what Forager is doing is important as well as “so fundamental” — largely because there’s a lack of innovation in the agriculture and food industry despite the growing attention to buying locally produced products. Much of the distribution process is controlled by 

“The demand is there, but [ways to meet it] are constrained,” he said.

Stone also cofounded CashStar, the digital gift card business, and Forager was his sixth startup.

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