The big four UK supermarkets are in trouble. Sales and profits have fallen across the board, and recent revelations about the prevalence of campylobacter in supermarket chicken have shocked the nation. It’s not surprising that an increasing number of people are interested in where their food comes from and how it is produced.
The Open Food Network (OFN) is an Australian initiative created in response to the failures of modern-day food systems: its aim is to reconnect consumers with their food and each other. The online platform is an open marketplace for farmers, food hubs, eaters and local businesses. It’s a resource that many countries, especially the United Kingdom, could make good use of.
The network makes it easier for consumers to access local, sustainably produced food. Farmers and food producers are often trapped by supermarket contracts – squeezed on prices but reluctant to speak out for fear of losing business – so this system gives them an easier, fairer way to distribute their food. The OFN has done away with the middleman.
Customers can order from a selection of local produce and see exactly who and where their food comes from. You can either browse by location to find what’s being produced nearby or search for a specific product. From buyers groups to food hubs and stores each option on the OFN has detailed information about what products are on offer and who has supplied them. Every supplier has a profile, which gives them the opportunity to tell the story behind their food and what makes them stand out from the crowd. The profiles provide information about the supplier’s location, size and production methods.
One of the most appealing aspects of the OFN is how straightforward and easy it is to use. The design of the platform means that being technologically savvy is not a requirement to accessing good food. The site provides a clear list of its stores: when you select one, further information is displayed about what it has on offer, its delivery options and who its suppliers are. If you see something you like, simply select items to add to your basket, then pay online and arrange for collection or delivery.
Launched in Australia in November 2014, the OFN is now running trials around the world with a UK testing site already online. It is an open source project, meaning that the code used to build the site is freely available to anyone who wants to replicate it and create their own network.
If you are interested in listing your business or buying through the OFN, visit www.openfoodnetwork.org.
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