The Food Industry’s Sharknado

A curious thing is happening, one can hardly believe it – in towns and major cities, impacting the lives of low wage workers and highly paid venture capitalists.  Sharks are flying through the air, swimming up flooded streets, popping out of drainage pipes, and landing on farms, technology innovation centers and supermarkets across the US, gobbling up and swallowing whole what we once took for granted.

I admit, I have been watching with big eyes from the window of my small suburban Boston neighborhood, sometimes with a Tara Reid like smirk, thinking, this too shall pass.  What I have come to marvel at, though, is what seems to be a perfect storm of paradigm shifts in numerous links within the food industry that seem to be churning all within the span of the last 9 months.

Exhibit A – a phenomenon striking close to home here in Boston:  The Hatfields and McCoys have finally brought their food empire to its knees.  I speak of course of the spiraling plummet of the goliath of New England supermarket chains, the king of discount shopping, Market Basket.  Competitor Stop & Shop has accelerated their online delivery service PeaPod to capitalize on Market Basket’s striking workers and empty shelves, with limited but sufficient success.  The PeaPod driver who delivered my order last night was called up from Connecticut for an extra shift, and was two hours past the guaranteed delivery window because, with three times the demand, Peapod inventory had to be sourced far and wide.  Customer service was quick to offer me $10 off my next order and free delivery for the rest of the month for the delay.   There is blood in Boston Harbor.

Exhibit B – The rise of food delivery startups, that cater to businesses in office parks, busy families, large parties, and now, foodies and those early adopters who expect food lifestyle services at the touch of their mobile device.  Formerly unknown companies like GrubHub, Instacart, Delivery.com, GoodEggs, Blue Apron, SpoonRocket and Caviar are all of a sudden the darlings of the investment and M&A world, being consumed, snapping up rounds of funding and securing news headlines from the likes of Huffington Post and Forbes.   They dive and circle to gorge themselves on the delivery trend first anchored by the likes of Amazon Fresh and FreshDirect.    Fresh food, even organic offerings, are now a commodity that sits on the shelf next to electronics, clothing and hardware at Walmart and Target stores – leaving consumers in the developed world expecting an “always on” capacity for their food desires.

This leads me to my final rumbling – and that of food sourcing platforms.  I have been following the spectacularly hard work of leaders like Provender, FoodTrade, Jackeez and AgLocal as they navigate the challenges of delivering on an efficient ecommerce platform that matches a food source directly with its demand point, to increase local availability, preserve and support small craft producers and accelerate adoption by food service professionals of sustainable, local, traceable product.  I am ready to observe a feeding frenzy in this space soon, followed by the strongest of the food beasties swimming back out into depths to feed again.

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