Cambridge Food Hub Update

Cambridge Food Hub ‘Hubdate’

Although we still haven’t found a site for a building, the Cambridge Food Hub is already very much in business! We have been running a pilot operation from our existing premises for over a year now. Stage one was to deliver grocery products made by our network of local producers to businesses in and around Cambridge. Then came our Green Coffee Shop Scheme: we’ve been collecting the spent coffee grounds from Cambridge’s cafés and taking them either to be made into coffee logs by Biobean, or into compost by Waterland Organics. Of course, the collection of coffee grounds had to be suspended when coffee shops closed at the start of lockdown. We are planning to resume that service later this month.

The Food Hub gets fresh

There have been two big developments in the evolution of the Food Hub in the last month. At the start of August, we moved what had been Cambridge Organic’s wholesale supply business over to the Food Hub. That meant that business customers could order fresh produce using the Open Food Network in the same way that they had been ordering other Food Hub products. The Open Food Network is a website platform, which offers a shopfront for lots of small food businesses to connect to their customers. We’ve had good feedback from the businesses using the platform regarding their experience of the ordering process. The platform also allows businesses whose main purchase might be fresh produce to easily add other local products to their order. And it produces convenient invoices and order summaries for us, cutting down on a lot of admin! If you’d like to have a nosey at our shopfront on the Open Food Network, I’m afraid you’ll find that our part of the site is restricted to our wholesale members.

Membership not margin

The other change we’ve made is more experimental. We’re trialling a radical new approach to how we charge for the service we provide. Instead of us adding a margin to the produce we sell, Food Hub members buy at direct-from-producer prices. The Food Hub’s operational costs are covered by its members paying a membership fee instead. There are several different bands of membership fee, so a business with bigger orders pays more towards the cost of getting the produce to them than a smaller business. We’ve tried to calculate the bands of membership so that the businesses who buy from us are saving money compared to us adding a traditional margin.

It’s too early to decide if this new model for generating income is going to be kept in the longer term. One thing we’ve learned in these early days is that it’s so novel that it takes a lot of explaining! Whether in the end it is kept as the way the Food Hub supports itself, it’s a brave attempt to separate profit from the provision of the Food Hub’s services.

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