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Online marketplace The Modern Forager encourages Kiwis to buy local during lockdown

Created as a reaction to covid-19, online market place The Modern Forager allows food-loving Kiwi’s to connect with New Zealand’s best farmers, growers and makers during such unprecedented times.

Founded by Mount Maunganui based couple Melissa and Reuben Woods, who also own award-winning branding agency Woods, The Modern Forager lets Kiwis forage in their own backyard and find the best of regional food and drink.

During January, when China went into lockdown, the couple noticed the significant impact it had on New Zealand companies as China is a major business partner. Fishing boats stopped going out, forestry was put on hold, and honey and produce exports came to a halt. As New Zealand then came into lockdown, businesses took a further loss, with the supply and distribution chains of food and beverage companies being heavily affected.

Co-founder Melissa Woods says food and drink businesses are either out of stock, have too much stock, or the usual suppliers of their products such as restaurants and cafes have closed down.

“We saw the need to help New Zealand food and beverage companies find a new market and find it fast so the changing dynamics of covid19 wouldn’t affect them. By shopping online, Kiwis are helping farmers, producers and growers keep moving the stock and keep the sales up.”

The idea for the marketplace also came from close to home as one of the couple’s daughters and Melissa’s parents are immune compromised. Creating an online platform where the family could shop direct with the food or beverage producer, reducing the amount of contact the product has, was a solution that fit the whole family.

The Modern Forager website consists of two users, the consumers who want to buy local food, and the farmers, makers and growers who would like to sell direct to the consumer. Once landing on the homepage, consumers can instantly click through the marketplace and browse local goods. After finding a product they are interested in, they can connect directly via email, phone or website to order.

Additionally, the marketplace was designed to work for people who many not have ecommerce set up, and as the needs of each producer are learnt, the team at The Modern Forager can help them become more agile online. To assist with the current hardship that producers are going through, the Woods’ are also offering two free months of product listing, then $59 thereafter, with 100 percent of the sales going to the companies.

“We knew we needed our farmers, growers and makers to survive, if they do well we all do well. So, the site was built without a commercial bone to its body, it was built as a platform to help,” says Woods.

With food and beverage producers having their distribution chains affected in a matter of weeks, Woods says the pressure of having to identify new markets and how to reach them was enough to put her into gear.

“I knew what the people of New Zealand needed- food and I knew what our farmers, growers and makers needed – cash flow. We built the site overnight, launched and edited the structure and user experience each night once our four children were in bed.

“The Modern Forager gives buying control back to the families and individuals within our communities, we kiwis need to understand where our food is grown, what is grown and also what is good for you. We want to help kiwis eat local, buy local and live healthily.”

One New Zealand company that has felt the effects of covid-19 is Nelson-based nutritional drinks company Chia Sisters. The company has experience a 60 percent drop in sales as cafés have shut their doors for at least four weeks. Chia Sisters was one of the first companies to list its products on The Modern Forager and co-founder Florence Van Dyke is fully supportive of its vision to get more Kiwis familiar with what’s in their backyard.

“There’s enough resources in this country but for businesses to survive, we need to redistribute those resources and meet new needs,” Van Dyke says.

“It will be through connecting locally that the small business community will surprise us the most. We will be innovative to survive and in doing so come up with the solutions we need.”

As their other business Woods has seen a slight pause, Melissa and the team are focusing their energy on The Modern Forager in the hope that their work will help other companies make it through.  Although there are other businesses similar in the same arena, Melissa says their point of difference is the support they offer beyond the listing.

“We offer business advisory, support, strategy, marketing, sustainable packaging, and we are building a community of likeminded businesses for them to connect with one another and even collaborate.

“The Modern Forager was built by the team at our award winning full service brand agency, our producers will have direct access to experts in all fields such as brand development, design, digital marketing, business strategy, IP, exporting through to NZ made zero waste packaging solutions from our sustainable packaging company.”

Since developing the website, the team have seen a surge in sales and people buying locally. The Modern Forager website can track user behaviour, where the consumers are based and more specific consumer details, which is then passed on to producers allowing them to understand their buyers in more depth.

Modern Forager is not only connecting producers with consumers. It can also help brands experiment, develop and launch new product innovations. The products can be tested on the platform and receive real-time feedback from consumers.

Woods is working with companies that have listed on The Modern Forager to fast track new brand development packaged in sustainable packaging, to sell direct. There are a large number of producers who were supplying direct to businesses, they have no consumer-facing brand, packaging or ecommerce.

As the website is self-funded, the team have been working across it throughout the day and in between paid client work. Each day the site has grown with new listings coming in and web traffic increasing. Mellissa says the team have a large backlog of listings to get through which they are now planning in larger blocks of time each day for the content creators and designer to work on.

Since launching, the team have also had a number of companies reach out to assist as service providers, such as NZ Post for business freight and logistic solutions, as well as tourism operators with vehicle fleets. 

Looking forward, the Woods’ not only aim to help local Kiwi businesses but also, after three months of operating, will donate a percentage of profit per month to causes they support including Brain Injured Children’s Trust and Woman’s Refuge.

With covid-19 still at large worldwide, travel freight and exports will be affected. Mellissa says supporting our local producers is a very easy way for New Zealand to move forward together.

“We are in a great country to be in lockdown, strong leadership and a country full of quality products the rest of the world loves.”

Check out The Modern Forager here.

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