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Eating healthy is becoming more important to North American families. But for working professionals, especially parents, time for grocery shopping is shrinking. That spells opportunity for companies that deliver organic food to people’s homes.
While many regular grocery delivery businesses have had varied success, organic delivery services have grown rapidly across North America.
“People looking for specialty items not readily available elsewhere use our services,” says Ian Diamond, owner of an organic food delivery service in South Salem, New York. “A large portion of my clientele consists of families with young children.
“Two different aspects of our service attract customers: the actual delivery service for people who don’t have time to shop and the high-quality products we offer.”
According to the Organic Trade Association, organic farming is happening in about 100 countries around the world.
“Sales of organic foods and beverages have grown 20 percent to 24 percent each year over the past decade. We’re not seeing a decrease and we expect to see that growth continue,” says Barbara Haumann, senior writer for the Organic Trade Association.
“All kinds of people chose organic products, but they all have respect for the Earth, soil and fresh vegetables.”
Haumann also says that organic consumers tend to be educated with good incomes. While healthy food appeals to them, many organic consumers are too busy for extensive grocery shopping.
Consumers of organic products may be motivated by concern for children, recovery from illness or other health issues. Environmental health is also a deciding factor for many consumers who don’t agree with the use of pesticides or many synthetic food additives.
Diamond says organic produce needs special attention that many health food stores or supermarkets may not provide. “We handle produce better than many stores. Our produce comes in and goes out quickly, so there are quality benefits.”
Knowledge about specific organic products is very important for business owners, says Diamond. “What sets my company apart from my competition is my knowledge of how to handle, buy, store and present organic food. People who are successful with organic food really know what they’re doing.”
Offering a wide range of products may also contribute to success, says Diamond. Many businesses will only deliver produce, while others include meats, cheeses, breads and more.
Diamond says specialty items are a hot area. “There are still many specific gourmet foods not available in organic form,” he says.
Lisa McIntosh is the co-owner of an organic food delivery service. She sees a local market for local produce.
“I think we will always be able to provide better quality produce sourced closer to home, because larger retailers tend to buy centrally and in large volumes. This excludes the smaller farmers, and it is these smaller farmers who supply us at the local level.”
McIntosh came from a background in community economic development. She used to work with a nonprofit organization that supported food security and sustainable agriculture. Although she says she learned a lot through the day-to-day operation of her business, McIntosh also prepared herself by taking some business training.
“I took an entrepreneurship course to help with the development of an extensive business plan. My partner had previous experience as co-owner of a small business. Both of us had volunteered on organic farms and been previous customers of a similar service.”
Any food science, nutrition or related studies, says McIntosh, would help someone starting an organic delivery service. “I think it would be useful to have business management education or experience, produce handling experience, food-related education, delivery logistics, or even experience working at a fruit stand.”
In the United States, sellers of organic food can use products certified as organic by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Regulations set by the USDA prohibit the use of irradiation, sewage sludge or genetically modified organisms in organic production. Organic meat and poultry must be fed 100 percent organic feed and antibiotics are not allowed.
Organic Trade Association
Learn about the industry
National Organic Program
Information from the USDA
Organic Consumers Association
Promotes organic farming
***You may wish to call in 5 minutes early to make sure you get a spot on the call! If for some reason you receive a busy signal (indicating the call is full when you dial in) or you can’t make the call, an audio recording will be sent to you within 24 hours of the call as long as you are on the list – so you can still benefit from this valuable information!***
Inspiring your success,
Imported wines are popular with wine fans. In fact, imported wine accounts for 26 percent of dollar sales in the wine industry, according to WineBusiness.com. The thirst for imported wine is creating opportunities for wine importers.
Robert Maxwell is the president of the National Association of Beverage Importers (NABI). In Maxwell’s opinion, the first step in becoming a successful wine importer is determining which products to import. That’s largely based on potential consumer interest. Then the wine importer, also known as a wine agent, must locate the wine supply.
Before wine can be imported into the U.S., agents must file for a free federal license, followed by the appropriate state license. License expenses can vary by state. After the product is imported, labels of approval from both the federal and state governments must be obtained.
Scott Fraser started Forbes Fraser Wines Ltd. over 12 years ago. It all began when a former professor, Jim Forbes, asked Fraser if he wanted to start a hobby company importing wine. “In my ignorance,” says Fraser, “I said yes.”
The company grew steadily, “in part because I think we were smart,” says Fraser, and “in part because of good timing.”
After four years, it was enough of a “real company” for Fraser to work on it part time, which quickly led to full-time employment. Soon even his wife, Sonia, quit her job to join the growing business, working as sales manager.
Essentially, Fraser says, their business is wholesaling. “We purchase wine by the tens, hundreds or thousands of cases from wineries around the world, ship them to our warehouse, then reship them to our customers.”
The Ways of a Wine Agent
Fraser’s job boils down to finding wines, getting them into the country and preparing marketing materials for the sales team. Sonia Fraser is in charge of selling the wine, with assistance from one full-time and one part-time employee.
The romantic notion of jet-setting around the world looking for wines is just that — a romantic notion. In reality, Fraser says he finds most of his global suppliers through fax and e-mail. He then deals with all the legalities required for import, takes orders and arranges shipping.
As a small business owner, he also manages the accounting, financial analysis and inventory for the company. “We work in a [government-regulated] environment, so there is no shortage of paperwork to deal with,” he says.
“The sales side involves dealing with a very wide range of customers, from…liquor store managers to food-and-wine-loving restaurant owners to individual consumers,” says Fraser.
Most of the jobs in this industry are sales positions. Wages depend on factors like the person’s level of experience, the company they work for and its compensation plan. Fraser says a typical salesperson can expect to earn from the low-$30,000s to upwards of $50,000 in salary and commission.
“Owner-managers can obviously do better,” says Fraser. “But it takes many years to build up a wide enough selection of products and a broad enough customer base from a standing start.”
He notes that most companies are very lean, employing only a sales force, a sales manager, a senior manager-owner and support staff. Few companies have a middle-management level.
According to the most recent figures from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES), purchasing managers earn an average annual salary of $81,570 in the U.S.
Degree-holders do tend to have an advantage when pursuing a sales position in the wine importing business: a degree in marketing may be particularly helpful. However, Fraser feels that for someone with a flair for sales and excellent people skills, the actual type of degree is unimportant.
Winning at Wine Importing
For Fraser, one of the high points of working in the wine importing trade is the camaraderie. “Everyone in the business knows everyone and [they] are largely on friendly terms,” he says. “Despite the fact our products compete, we all get along.”
The downsides of the business can include low profit margins and less than outstanding salaries. Since most of the people agents deal with are thousands of miles away, there can also be a sense of isolation.
Fraser points out that wine importing isn’t a high-pressure sales kind of business. The key, he says, lies in developing good relationships. “Success comes from building personal ties to your customers over a long period of time,” he says. To enjoy this business, you must like people, food, and of course, wine.
Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field, see Purchasing Managers, Buyers and Purchasing Agents in the OOH
National Association of Beverage Importers
Check out the association’s home page
The Wine News Magazine
Timely feature stories and comment columns about happenings in the wine industry
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