BREAK ROOM A one-on-one conversation with an industry impresario
David Stone is the founder
and CEO of Forager, a Portland,
Maine-based tech startup devoted
to simplifying the sourcing and
distribution of local foods for
Jon Springer: Welcome to the Break Room,
David. What’s the big idea behind Forager?
David Stone: The local food economy is
the fastest-growing segment of the food
sector nationwide, driven by the desire
of millennials and other key market
segments to eat fresh, local, healthy food in
addition to meeting their concerns around
sustainability. Food is the largest industry
in the world and has the greatest impact
overall. Food affects the environment,
healthcare and socioeconomic systems,
reduces our carbon footprint, creates local
jobs and brings people together.
Sourcing local foods from independent
farms has traditionally been a difficult,
complex and expensive process done mostly
by phone and email, making it a nonstarter
for many grocers. Most payments are still
also made by check—slow in processing and
a real pain for both the producer and the
buyer. The Forager platform (GoForager.
com) fundamentally changes the methods
of sourcing, digitizing the supply chain in
order to save money, reduce errors and plan
much more effectively. All of this makes our
mission possible: to make locally sourced
food more available to all.
You’ve said that only 3% of all the food
we consume is local. What’s a realistic
figure in five or 10 years?
Maine and Vermont have already doubled
that figure as independent farms are
experiencing a resurgence after years
of decline. In Maine, 1,000 new farms
have been started in the past 10 years, the
majority by people 35 and younger, and
40% by women. Across the country, many
states are taking measures to advance the
local food economy. The market for local
food has grown four times faster than
industrial agriculture in the past decade,
expected to reach $20 billion by 2019.
Given the strong demand and increasing
supplier capacity, I predict local food will
make up 10%-15% of the market within
five years, which would result in a market
in excess of $100 billion.
You are also the founder of CashStar, a
digital gift card company that was sold
to Blackhawk Networks last year. How
has that experience contributed to what
you’re doing at Forager today?
As a serial entrepreneur and after years
of building and raising more than $50
million for CashStar, I learned so very much
through building a successful company
that achieved more than $2 billion in digital
prepaid value. The lessons run across
the board for my current role as CEO of
a startup, from hiring the best people to
building products early and getting them
to the market to get reaction from our
customers; better thinking about raising
capital and which venture capitalists are
best for us to work with; and finally, finding
the most effective strategy to build a brand
and get national exposure across multiple
So far, you’ve gotten good participation
and success among small farmers and
small retailers. Can Forager also be a
solution for big chains? Why or why not?
Absolutely, yes. While I fundamentally
believe small independent grocers are
making a comeback, large conventional
grocers still dominate the market. We
are already seeing success with a top 10
grocer, as well as with grocers with six or
more locations and 35,000-square-foot
stores. We’re in conversations with multiple
chains, as everyone is looking to expand or
enter the local food market. Lastly, unlike
their processes with big distributors, local
sourcing from multiple farms is historically
painstakingly difficult and, as far as we can
tell, most grocers have no systems and very
little intelligence (i.e., analytics) to manage
and improve the local food supply chain.
What was your first job? I was a stock
boy at a discount retailer first, followed
by my first entrepreneurial venture: a
canteen at the high school that the school
closed down—it was so popular as to be
Three favorite all-time Red Sox?
Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Carlton Fisk.
Next time we visit Portland, what local
foods should we try? Oysters, chioggia
beets, watermelon radishes and, of
course, wild organic blueberries.