Nathan Steele believes Winnipeggers are ready to join the online grocery movement.
On July 3, Steele unveiled the aisles on his online grocery delivery store, MyFarmersMarket.com, stocked with local meats, breads, fruits and vegetables produced mostly in Winnipeg and Manitoba.
"This is about bringing people wholesome, healthy foods efficiently and conveniently," Steele said last week outside his Sargent Avenue warehouse near the airport with his brother and business partner Josiah Koppanyi and delivery driver Mitch Toews.
"It’s a storefront in their home 24 hours a day."
The store offers same-day delivery to St. James, parts of Charleswood, Tuxedo, the West End, Weston, Wolesely, River Heights, Fort Rouge, Osborne Village and downtown.
The store runs the Canadian Food Guide gamut, including elk and bison from northern Manitoba, Halal-certified and Manitoba-raised chicken, zucchini, cucumbers, strawberries, lettuce and more farmed just outside of Winnipeg. There’s also organic grain and nuts, bread from North End institution Gunn’s Bakery, along with coffee and rice that are roasted and grown in the province.
Though a number of his products — some fruits and veggies, beef, and spreads — are sourced from outside the province’s borders, Steele is trying to encourage people to eat more fresh local food. Today’s society is perpetuating a farm and food system that necessitates the mass production of crops, many of which are genetically modified, he said.
"When you support local producers, you’re putting money back in (our) own economy. And in the end, if you look at the big picture, (you’re) making an impact on your carbon footprint," he said.
"Right now, if we bring in tomatoes from Australia, which happens, we are shipping that weight and it has to cross the ocean by plane or boat.
"Every time there are large amounts we can source locally rather than import, we are making an impact."
For Steele, the store is a high school idea turned reality, one that follows a career in the food business, from the kitchens of five-star hotels to a locally-sourced breakfast and lunch café he started and ran for two years on the west coast.
"I’m at a place in my life where I’ve run my own business for a time and want to do something with something I’m familiar with and passionate about, which is food," said Steele.
"I saw an opportunity with no direct competition. I’m breaking into a market, it’s exciting for me and it’s a challenge."
Though there are some existing online grocers in Winnipeg , such as Fresh Option Organic Delivery, the local market is fairly small. The concept migrated following a popularity boom in Europe and businesses have been slowly popping up in North America. Even Google has tested the market and Amazon is reported to be launching a service sometime this year.
In Canada, online grocers have set up shop from Vancouver and Victoria to Toronto and Ottawa, Calgary and a number of rural communities in between.
According to a 2008 Buy Manitoba Food Study, consumers cited vegetables as their most frequently purchased made-in-Manitoba product. However, 83% of Manitobans said they did most of their grocery shopping at large supermarkets.
According to a study by Food Matters Manitoba, about $1.5-billion of the $2.6-billion worth of food Manitobans purchase in grocery stores can be grown or raised right here in the province.
Manitobans tweaking their habits and making a 10% shift in buying locally produced foods could make for a $150-million boost for local producers annually.
"Kreesta Doucette, executive director of Food Matters Manitoba, said Winnipeggers are increasingly buying into the buy local food movement. She hopes the convenience of online delivery will continue to spur that interest — a 2005 thesis she wrote on farmers markets found 83% of people surveyed wanted to buy more of their food directly from the farmer.
"It's exciting to see more convenient options," Doucette said.
"I think that’s what this online grocer really addresses."
After perusing Steele’s online store, Doucette added she’d like to see more clarity on some of the origins of foods for sale, production practices, beef for sale that’s raised in Manitoba not Alberta, and more concrete definitions of words like ‘natural.’
"We need to be clear and transparent with consumers so they don’t get disillusioned with some of the words out there around sustainability," she said.
Once business gets rolling, Steele said his future plans include bringing on more local products and producers, expanding his delivery fleet, and working with farmers to be able to prepare their crops to meet his forecasted demand.
"In the future, we’d be able to say we can guarantee that we’d buy 200 pounds of tomatoes in spring and they’d be able to prepare their crops that way," Steele said.
MyFarmersMarket is located at 9-1865 Sargent Ave., and runs deliveries from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
For more, visit www.myfarmersmarket.com or call 204-272-9555.