Mark Jaffe of The Fresh Connection interviewed by Madeline Parish on June 25, 2013.
A finalist for the 2013 LOHAS prize with the William James Foundation The Fresh Connection is doing great things to redefine the local food system in New York City. We were fortunate enough to be able to catch up with Mark Jaffe, Founder of The Fresh Connection, last week. He shared how he is working to provide quality and timely delivery of local produce and specialty foods to customers such as individuals, farmers markets and restaurants. Mark’s hard work and experience in both the farming and transportation systems makes him the perfect person to transform the food transportation system in NYC.
Is The Fresh Connection in business?
We are currently in business. We began operations last year but this will be our first year operating at capacity.
How many people do you employ?
Right now its myself and then I recently hired two drivers and am looking to hire a third part time driver in the near future.
Where are you located?
We are based in Brooklyn, New York and operate all over New York City.
Who are your customers?
When it comes down to it we operate as a fee for service food delivery operation. So our customers are whoever needs product transported. I’ve found that most of the time our customers are the companies making connections between retailers and buyers who need a third party to make deliveries. We also have some customers who do direct sales and found that doing deliveries themselves wasn’t efficient. Recently, we have also begun working with a few retail stores in Brooklyn who do local sourcing and want to sell the local product in their stores but found it inefficient to send out employees to handle the transport.
As you can see our customers are on all ends of the spectrum and that’s where I come in.
What are your revenues?
Its a little hard to give a representative number because this is the first year where I’ve been operating at capacity. Last year it was $5,300 but our year to date revenues for this year are over $30,000. And we have not been, overall, making a net profit but over the past couple months we have been.
What problem are you trying to solve?
The problem The Fresh Connection is trying to solve is pretty simple. We’re trying to figure out the most efficient way to move product from one point to another. There are a number of parties in the sustainable local food sector who are ready to go with this idea but who don’t have the correct skill set. For those people using internal personnel to transport their product It takes away from the focus and if you outsource to a basic transport company they often can’t handle the smaller volume orders.
So I offer specialty knowledge and the ability to be flexible. I often say to people that my value is that I know the difference between a box of kale and collard greens and can also drive a 24ft truck around New York City.
How did you become interested in the problem?
I would say it was a gradual immersion. I worked as part of a food co-op in Washington and started to think more about where my food came from. This was really important for me because growing up in the suburbs I just thought my food came from the supermarket. After working in for the co-op I worked on a farm in Maine. There I got learn more about farming and food production.
My interest in transport comes from my experience as a truck driver for a small scale food distributor. During this time I worked with small farms and learned about the challenges of moving the product through blood, sweat and tears. It occurred to me that there wasn’t enough attention paid to getting the product delivered efficiently and that there was a lack of dedication.
My work as a distributor and my experience with local farming really planted the seed in my mind that there’s got to be a better way to improve this and make it not just a niche operation but a whole new food system.
What is your solution to the problem?
The Fresh Connection is putting forth the solution of building a sustainable local food system without using unspecialized mainstream producer distribution. The Fresh Connection sees the need for specialized entities each tackling different aspects of the problem rather than vertically integrated companies. I think that we really need to focus on creating a strong supply chain and food system.
How has the William James Foundation competition and mentoring program helped you?
The whole experience has been great. Aside from the prospective prizes the reward of being able to have the feedback from judges and the push to think of my business in a business like was has been invaluable. Especially because knowing myself I wouldn’t have sat down and addressed all of the logistical requirements that I needed to. It was also great to get the critiques that pushed me to adjust my thinking because I have a minimal management and directorial background and definitely no firm business training so the insight into my business was amazing.
What are your major challenges?
One of the major challenges I’ve been facing is the pragmatic task of creating enough time in the day to do everything. I want to be able to connect and network but I also have to get the deliveries done.
Beyond that I am also attempting to navigate how to best increase my capacity but also have planned growth so that I can keep within my limits. The challenge for me is setting the parameters to day no if I really can’t do it because I’d rather say no rather than say yes and not make the delivery or have something go wrong.
Anything else you’d like the William James Foundation community to know?
One of the biggest pieces of feedback I received from the first round was to address how The Fresh Connection is different from a normal trucking company so I want to emphasize that we operate on the intersection between the practical logistical expertise and also the knowledge of the local food system.