This is the first episode in a 5 part mini-series where we’ll interview 5 different farmers that have taken their produce sales online recently. In this episode, we interview Budda Browett of Los Perros farm in Malmö, Sweden.
What are Reko-Rings? This first episode is all about Reko-Rings, a distribution model without middlemen. It operates via Facebook with closed groups. The groups are run by volunteers, and no one receives payment for their contribution. Reko ring translates into “sincere consumption.” Payment is made on the FB group as well, and drop off is made in a pre-defined place. Producers are in charge of their distribution and must follow all local safety regulations.
Did you start or join the Reko-Ring in Malmö? (3:40)
We started it with a couple of friends. We heard about the platform from Finland and have been doing it for three years now. It’s exploded since we’ve started! We didn’t know it’d be this successful when we got started. We’ve gone from 10k members last year to 18k this year.
Do you find that sales go up as the group grows? (5:10)
Overall there’s a slight increase all the time. There’s more sales, but there are also more sellers.
It’s like an online farmer’s market. On Sunday, you can do your farmers market shopping from the comfort of your couch. You order whatever you’re interested in and show up once a week at the drop off point. Everyone has their vehicles open with their product ready, you come down and shake some hands and pick up your order, and you’re on your way.
When and where does the payment take place? (7:20)
For us here in Sweden, we make the amount before. You like or comment on the post where the producer lists their product, and then the producer replies to confirm. Here we have a bank transfer platform called Swish, so the transfer of funds is instant. The reply will include the price and the Swish transfer number, and once they transfer the funds, the producer will reply to confirm.
We do drop-offs every Thursday. So you can place and pay for order anytime from Friday to Thursday and then Thursday night come by for pick-up. Everything is under one post once a week; some of the posts can be quite long.
Can you make additional purchases when you arrive on the day of pick-up? (11:00)
To avoid any legal challenges, all sales must be made online, and there are no sales at the site. It can legally only be a pick-up; if not there would have to be a whole new set of laws to adhere to.
What is the commitment for the producer like for managing the pick-ups? (12:00)
The pick-up is once a week at a location that never changes. For us, it’s a parking lot. The producers are there slightly before time.
All of the guesswork of what to bring and managing transactions is excluded as all of that has already been taken care of online. It’s quite nice; you can have your entire farmer’s market experience within the timespan of one hour. You then go home with an empty truck with very little to put away. In the winter, it’s cold, and there aren’t as many producers, so we reduce the pick-up window to half an hour.
It’s really up to the admin of the group to decide on the rules. No one is getting paid to run or set up the group.
What are some of the basic guidelines? (14:30)
One of the instructions is that it’s free so that no one can charge for these services.
It needs to be transparent between both parties. The sales are between the producer and the client. You can’t come to the admin and complain about a transaction, that’s a conversation you have to have between each other.
Everything is prebought. There are no middle-hands between the products, its producer only. You’re only allowed to sell your products.
It needs to be food and or related products. We’ve made some exceptions for beauty products in our group; it’s up to each group to decide what to allow.
We’ve included in our group that you need to be grown organically, not that you have to be certified if you are g with chemicals that needs to appear in your ad for the week.
How many producers do you have in your group? (17:00)
It’s a little difficult to track since we have a number of producers with multiple members representing one farm. Sofia and I are both in the producers’ FB group, and there are 280 members in the producers’ group. There is a group for producers and also one for admin. So that’s three groups total.
With that many producers, how do you avoid confusion with your posts? Do you have a cap for a number of producers for a given product category like at a typical farmers’ market? (17:20)
It kind of happens organically. If someone doesn’t have a good product to sell people are going to know about it and they’re going to self select themselves out of the group or not compete with other producers. There’s quite a lot of sitting on FB and answering posts that means not everyone is going to want to do it. For us, there’s about 30-40 producers that post each week. We take everything as it comes.
There are 10 admins for our group. Each week we review each post before it goes up. You can post pictures with your post and it’s better to get it up earlier in the week so more people see it. We have some admins that are in charge of the online content for that week or month, and then others that are assigned to manage the pick-up site and letting producers know where to park, or buyers know where to find certain producers. Each week old ads are taken down so no one gets confused seeing them.
So if you can meet the guidelines, no matter how many producers of one kind are already in the group, you can join? (23:30)
That’s how we run it, but there are other Reko-rings that restrict the number of producers of a certain type.
You can join as a member without restriction as well. We don’t allow members to post questions asking for a certain product. It would get overwhelming and confusing to see all of those posts. If anyone is spamming we just take them out of the group.
How much time do you spend each week organizing these ads and managing the group as an administrator? (25:15)
Although getting through the weekly ads doesn’t take that much time, it can be quite time consuming to manage the group each week. It’s still a lot less time consuming than managing a farmers’ market stand, so it’s worth it. Our group is all producers, even though there are some groups that have consumers as admin.
It’s helpful to have a diverse representation of producers as questions about how we might manage any given issue or question can be better addressed by someone with expertise in that field.
As a producer, it might take roughly 2 hours a week to get through 30-40 orders. Each order takes about 2-3 messages to complete. And there’s also a lot of flexibility – since you don’t have to get all the messages replied to all at once like you would at a market, you can get to them 5 minutes here, 20 minutes there, and essentially create your own schedule around it.
So how would you go about starting a Reko-Ring from start to finish? (30:30)
Let’s propose a scenario with step by step of how you could start a Reko-ring. You’re a farmer, and you approach one other farmer to start a group with. We’re the admins, and we start a private FB group which we name after the region we’re in. We also start a private admin and producer only group. We’ll post the guidelines in the main group, and we’re off and running.
Yes – that’s it. It’s not trademarked. It’s so simple there feels like there should be a catch, but there’s not. In just a few years, there are over 50 of them that have spread all over Europe. I don’t think you’d have to rebrand it to bring it to the states. I’d never heard of it before, and if you were to call it a Reko-Ring, you’d be part of the growing movement.
When you started, how did you get other producers to join? (34:10)
We had three farms when we started. Then we started inviting other local small scale farmers to participate. We had an info night, where we invited people out to discuss the possibilities. And it just grew from there. We are glad we’ve kept it going all season long since the beginning. Even on a frigid January evening, we had over 100 customers come out.
Have you found any down-side to this model? (36:20)
There is a difficulty in managing the questions about what products are allowable. For example, can you sell coffee grounds? Coffee doesn’t grow in Sweden, so some people would say it isn’t allowed. But we already have producers selling Kombucha, which requires tea, so where do you draw the line? We also have guidelines that restrict you to a small scale, and you have to ask, what is small scale exactly?
We also have to discuss if we allow hobby farmers to post on the group. We’ve gone back and forth about this a lot, and ultimately we’ve decided we’ll give people a try but that they need to become professional producers within a specific timeframe if they are going to stay on the group because we want it to present professionally.
Since the producers are all selling side-by-side, it’s vital to hold up a certain quality standard, so no one ends up looking poor by association.
Would this work in your area? It’s simple to start, and you could have it up on a FB group in a few hours without any cost out of pocket. Find a few more producers in your area and a pick-up site with outlined rules, and you’re ready to go.