Foodtree: an App for Producers and Consumers

Foodtree One of the reasons I started doing weekly City Market Reports was so it would be easy for people to know what was in season. But now? There’s an app for that!

Foodtree is a free photo-sharing mobile app that aims to help farmers better connect with consumers, and to enable consumers to better share information with one another. Launched in Vancouver, Edmonton was added to the app in mid-September.

Given the rise of local farmers’ markets this year in numerous communities across the city, it is particularly pertinent that an app with this focus debuted this year, as it could definitely help consumers determine which market they might attend that day or week.

In order to find out more about Foodtree, I sent Derek Shanahan, Foodtree’s Chief Community Officer, some questions:

What is Foodtree?

Foodtree is a web and mobile platform that makes it easy to share photos and insights about real food with food lovers and your community. Our free mobile app is like an Instagram for food, with photos tagged with where a food can be found and where it’s actually from. On the web, anyone can upload their photos and tag the same information.

In both places a conversation happens in the comments – often about the food, how it was made (or even how much it cost), or to add insights ("I know where that’s from!").

As an example, local farmers are now taking daily pics of their harvest and tagging the produce with the market you can buy it at later that day. They’re using it to market themselves, but also to connect with their buyers and to make it easier for them to find the food they love. Some even throw prices into their photo comments.

In broad strokes we’re a company building tools to empower a conversation about food and its provenance, and doing so in an effort to empower people with information they need to eat better while providing food producers with effective tools to connect with their customers. We focused on "whole" foods early (meat, produce, dairy) because there is such a lack of attention given these foods, both in terms of how they’re marketed or branded, and in terms of how consumers contemplate them (food lovers know that a piece of beef isn’t just a piece of beef; there’s more to it).

 

How is this different than Flickr, Twitter, Facebook or blogs?

First of all, it’s built for the food ecosystem; food lovers and food producers. We took what we’ve learned from the explosion of social tools and applied that learning to the unique (and incredibly complex) problems that the food system presents. We’ve also integrated some of those tools and will integrate more down the line…Twitter and Facebook are tied into the photo sharing process, for instance so that users can send pics to all three at once.

Instead of replacing the value of blogs, or even established social networks, Foodtree is aiming to expand on that value…we’ll roll out a Where To Buy widget, for instance, that will let food producers quickly tell their customers and blog readers where to find their stuff. It will embed into WordPress.

We’re in a world of information overload, so we’re not trying to replace core social networks. The next generation of web and mobile apps will leverage the value these networks created, but will serve specific needs, niches, and interests.  Flickr isn’t ideal for making purchasing decisions or sharing insights about how our local food communities fit together. Facebook isn’t either, and their focus as it relates to industry is in the context of their Ad Network. It’s actually a really great Ad Network, but that’s not the only way to market and build community around small and medium sized businesses. It’s our belief that Facebook Business Pages are pretty ineffective for most businesses AND us as users; especially when you have that conversation in the context of FOOD.

So in short, Foodtree’s mission is to build an open platform for the conversation about and consumption of food, integrated with today’s and tomorrow’s social networks.

 

What made you decide to build this app?

Foodtree’s foundation is in the challenges that Anthony faced as both a food lover and an artisan wine distributor. He’s always cared about where his food is from and how it’s been handled. He also spent a lot of time and resources trying to communicate a unique and thoughtful story about his wines to customers; the story of the farmers who handled the grape from the ground into the bottle using sustainable practices.

We built our mobile app because food isn’t something we experience while sitting in front of a computer…Foodtree needs to connect people out in the wild, while shopping, dining, and participating in their food communities. Taking photos is an easy way to participate in your food system; what are you seeing, and what do you know about the food that’s in front of you? Our app was built as a lightweight but revolutionary way to contribute to a wider conversation about food and food provenance, while empowering local food producers and great food people should know about.

 

What has the response been so far from farmers, consumers and markets? Have you connected directly with any Edmonton farmers, consumers or markets yet?

The response has been phenomenal. Already we have farmers and food businesses using the mobile app to promote their harvests and products in real-time…sharing photos of foods and where to buy them later that day. The farmers markets have been really great too…we’ve now talked to almost every major market in Canada, and recently expanded our app experience to include Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto. We’re constantly looking to include more markets in the database, as well as their vendors.

In addition, we’re moving beyond farmers markets based on the feedback from users and farmers. Both want to expand the Foodtree conversation into restaurants and retail, as so much of the food experience happens in these places. The app will get an upgraded that lets people use it anywhere that you can find food, while still tagging information about its provenance to the photos. The website will allow users to go even deeper.

Our userbase has also asked for even more interaction, so we’ll add "liking" and deepen our "following" feature to let food lovers subscribe to farmers or other businesses for useful updates about harvests and other related communications.

People also seem interested in some measure of reputation within the community, so we’re exploring that as well.

 

What is your hope for FoodTree?

We’re the crazy kind of entrepreneurs that honestly thinks what we’re building could change the world. We imagine a world in which it’s weird NOT to know where your food is from. We imagine a world in which it’s as easy to get detailed insight into what you’re eating as it is to check the history on a car you’re considering buying.

We hope that we’re an integral part of the inevitable disruption that our food system is about to experience. As Chris Dixon said, "Predicting the future of the internet is easy: anything it hasn’t drastically transformed, it will." 

Best of luck to Derek and his team – in this digital world, it’s great to see tools that help make choosing and eating local just a little more seamless.

If you’re interested in learning more about Foodtree, check their website. And to download their app, head over here.

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