Nod Verde is a food hub that provides a new retail channel to producers and an alternative health solution to consumers. The initiative started from the producer’s needs with whom the Civitas Foundation collaborates. Most of them produce small quantities on small areas which significantly reduce their chances of getting into the market – the big chain stores do not work with them and the local markets are not a proper alternative either. Therefore, the small producers remain outside the market, a fact that generates multiple social effects: the agricultural production is decreasing, the export dependency is increasing, the rural areas are depopulated.
In 2014, after a long period of research and analysis of multiple hub operation models, Civitas visited numerous food hubs from USA. Inspired by what they have seen, they adopted a simple model, folded on the needs of the target identified in Romania. There is a trend in the market which covers the authentic taste of local products. Together with an active lifestyle, we can observe that these type of consumers do not succeed in buying the local products they want – therefore they purchase it from sources less secure as the street vendors by the side of the road.
The American model versus the Romanian reality
Everything started from an identified need on the Romanian market. The clients access to local products was limited because did not exist a modern form through which they could receive directly organic products. Nod Verde appeared to bring consumers one click away from products, through online orders and home delivery.
Civitas visited the USA in 2014 and had seen different operational models from which they have chosen the one that better fits the Romanian realities – an initiative of young people from Philadelphia which worked closely with community farmers whose products were primarily consumed by collective beneficiaries. Its market share was mostly made up of collective clients like hospitals, schools, restaurants, instead of individuals. Another reason that makes the model suitable for the Romanian market is the way collective clients (especially schools and hospitals) tend to choose their suppliers, the choice being heavily based on price.
The business model adopted by Nod Verde has a strong educational component
Nod Verde’s business model is based on a web platform where the clients can place their orders, choosing from the listed products. This business model has a strong educational component for both farmers and consumers. The producers are helped to obtain authorization or to have better marketing in their strategy. Simultaneously, consumers have a better awareness of the benefits of local products. Nod Verde focuses on creating a community and a good relationship between the producers and clients. Among the challenges that the food hub faces is the people reluctance to this type of commerce – the reluctance can be observed on consumers and producers.
Civitas learned that when creating a food hub a good concept is not enough. The whole process requires detailed planning and all the business elements need to be taken into account. It requires time – in agriculture, there is a bigger dependency of production than in other fields. If an agricultural year is bad, the problem can be ameliorated only next year, unlike other areas where the cycles are shorter and easier to control.
The relationship between local producers and consumers
The producers are looking for alternative retails and are attracted by stability, predictability and good price. In almost every community that Nod Verde collaborates with, the main problem that has been expressed was the availability of a good outlet. Not being able to have a clear view of your outlet a pose significant difficulties, especially when the involved actors invested in production, human resources, equipment, and supplies. It is difficult for a producer to compete on a large market where, in most cases, the commerce turns into a jackpot. The ideal scenario is to have three or four big clients who buy large volumes, another three or four smaller clients who want diversity and other one or two who can process the products that do not satisfy the standards of the other clients. Besides being a commercial partner, the food hub is also a development partner. Nod Verde invests in events for the producers, in promoting and counseling on packaging and labeling. The producers are open to such initiatives but most of the time, their expectations are higher than the reality. Valentin Filip, one of the Nod Verde initiators, felt how the producers were pushing them from behind – if we can produce more, you can sell more? „A message like this makes you more responsible to find new channels, grow and learn at the same time with the producer”.
The relationship between local producers and consumers can be strengthened through direct contact and meaningful dialogue. Many relationships had been consolidated after the events held at the farm, where our consumers visited the producers’ holdings, tasted local products and were pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. There are few producers prepared to open their gates, but with the above-mentioned examples, a trend has been set even the more skeptical customers becoming eager to embrace it.
For a fruitful relationship, the producer and the consumer need to listen and accept each other’s opinion. The communication is bidirectional and it does need to create reactions on both sides, otherwise, we cannot talk about a strong relationship. For example, if the producer said that is necessary to use less herbicide right before the products are collected, the consumer should not avoid that product and consider it harmful. On the other hand, the producer must take into account consumer preferences. If the consumer does not want to use plastic anymore, the producer is forced to propose a new way of packaging using paper or other biodegradable and re-utilizable material. „All these reactions transmitting that we are paying attention to each other strengthen the relationship and lead to mutual benefits”.
Trends and predictions for the next years
More and more people are preoccupied by a healthy lifestyle, consuming more local products and using less plastic or other materials likely to give rise to environmental pollution. Nod Verde is fighting against pollution and uses environmental-friendly measures, like the cardboard boxes in which the products are delivered. Each box has a label through which the clients are asked to return the box and the glass bags at the next delivery. The products – the vegetables and the fruits – are delivered unpacked, in order to reduce the volume of packages that Nod Verde introduces on the market. Most clients understand and want that the impact of Nod Verde’s on the environment to be minimum. Currently, Nod Verde is analyzing other two initiatives that wants to implement in the future – environmentally-friendly delivery and creating a pick-up point.
The local products market continues to rise. Regardless of the source – online or offline – more and more local initiatives appear, needing help and guidance. Nod Verde’s plans include: increasing the number of partners, greater development and closer connections between producers and customers. At the moment, there are several food hubs coordinated by Romanian-American Foundation, each of it with its own strategy. Nord Natural (products from Bucovina delivered across the country), Roade și Merinde (only in Iași), Magazinul produselor locale – Helyénvaló (only in Odorheiu Secuiesc) and Merindar (apiculture products from Criț, delivered across the country). These initiatives represent a strong pillar for forming national models which can be replicated in other regions and can have a good influence on their development.
Nod Verde reinvest in the community the money from the sale of products
A share of the profits from Nod Verde will be directed to some social projects for community development, which will be implemented by Civitas Foundation for Civil Society – Cluj-Napoca office, the NGO from which started this initiative. Ștefan Bartiș, the manager of Nod Verde considers that the above-mentioned represents a very important step that will come after ensuring the sustainability of the project. „Giving something back to communities who support us is a way to show our gratitude and appreciation”.