Randy Morrow comes from a long line of farmers, so he knows first-hand the difficulties they face with shifting markets for crops. Every season farmers must contend with this as they look for the best outlet for their produce. But Morrow hopes to ease some of that uncertainty with his new family business called eProduceSales.com.
His idea began in 2008, growing out of his experience with his family-owned, Portland-based grocery and produce businesses. He says his online site is a central resource for buyers, wholesalers, retailers and farmers to help direct produce to where it is needed best.
“We thought, ‘Let’s bring the Internet to fresh produce industries,”’ he says.
His model is simple: Growers and wholesalers sign up for one of three fee-based memberships based on monthly transactions. Members then list the quantity and quality of their commodities, post a picture, and wait for customers to purchase at agreed-on prices or enter into auctions. “All we need are price, quantity and USDA grade,” says Morrow. “We liken it to eBay for large-scale business-to-business trading.”
Produce transactions are traditionally based on established relationships, but Morrow says growers now can sell perishable produce more efficiently. Buyers and sellers both benefit by finding new markets and suppliers, reducing the potential for produce rotting in the field , or empty shelves at the store.
A few companies like California-based AgriWorld Exchange have tried a similar approach before, but Morrow says his model is the only one that allows buyers of produce to shop for free on his site while they peruse batches of produce through the site’s photos. “If you go to our site you can immediately buy, say, 500 pounds of basil,” says Morrow. “And you don’t have to be a member.”
eProduceSales won a Gorge Angel Investor Network competition in May, resulting in a $105,000 investment and a move from Portland to Hood River.
Morrow says his company began its first marketing campaign in early September and brokered between $25,000 and $30,000 in produce during their first month of operation. As of early December, the site had around 45 members and more than 1,000 separate buyers.
Morrow is happy so far with the company’s growth through connecting sales points for individual produce runs, but he has an even bigger goal. “What we’d like to move toward is entire fields and crops,” he says.