As consumers become more conscious of the impact their actions make on the environment, provenance and transparency are the key qualifiers they are seeking in food and drink.
While the major retailers offer a dazzling array of products, where these products come from can sometimes come into question. However, provenance is a question that can always be answered by Fresh Range.
An online platform, Fresh Range is the brainchild of founder and chief executive Rich Osborn and serves as a one-stop shop for consumers looking for authentic, local produce, which can be delivered to any part of the country.
The company was born from Osborn’s desire to break away from a career with pharmaceutical and home goods giant Procter & Gamble and enter an industry for which he had a personal passion.
“I spent 16 years working at Procter & Gamble, much longer than I ever expected,” he explains. “I learned a lot, but reached the point where I really wanted to act on my values a little bit more than I could there.
“I’d worked in industries like laundry, pharmaceuticals and haircare before – none of which I really had much of a passion for. I knew I wanted to do something that was purpose-driven in food and I always wanted to work and develop my own small business. I’d been leading very big businesses up until then, so to start from scratch with a blank page was kind of an appealing concept – and that was six years ago.”
Fresh Range now features more than 100 producers supplying their goods for sale to more than 4,500 registered consumers, who use the site on a regular basis – and it has seen growth of 50% year-on-year for the past three years.
Hub for local produce
Osborn’s vision for Fresh Range was to develop a hub for consumers to source locally produced food items that they could trace right back to the source, even down to the farm and field they came from. A focus on small and medium-sized businesses has allowed Osborn and his team to be selective in their choice of which suppliers they work with.
“That has enabled us to focus on sustainable producers that are getting things right, producing food in the right way,” he explains. “We’re looking for some difference to make the produce exceptional, either in terms of taste, flavour or freshness or in terms of whether it has sustainable credentials, from a social or an environmental perspective.”
One of the key benefits of Fresh Range’s distribution model is the reduction of food miles through the use of its mixed-temperature zone hub.
Orders from each supplier are consolidated at this hub before being distributed to the consumer in a bid to remove as many links from the supply chain as possible.
However, this reduction in food miles is more than just a binary measure for reducing the carbon footprint of the food we eat.
For Osborn, a shorter supply chain makes it more transparent and provides a level of provenance that cannot be achieved by the massive chains run by the major retailers.
“Shortness of supply chains means you have full transparency on the production methods of the food – and that’s how you can start to tackle your personal carbon footprint,” he continues.
“If you have mass supply chains that are relatively opaque, then it’s very difficult to make choices about what you eat in order to reduce your carbon footprint. And the data is absolutely clear that the vast majority of the greenhouse gases from the food and drink industry are made up in how the food is produced, rather than the transportation.
“I think you’ll find people will become more discerning, because sustainable British producers will become more distinguished from the mass-produced food on our supermarket shelves,” says Osborn. “So, that trend for transparent provenance is only going to grow.”
With rural environment secretary George Eustice refusing to guarantee a ban on food of a lower standard being imported into the UK, consumers will inevitably want to know how their food is made.
It can be argued that buying food from short supply chains is the only way people can really change their personal carbon footprint on food.
That drive for sustainability extends into Fresh Range’s packaging methods, using sheep’s underwool – normally unusable and unsellable for farmers – as a packing material. This novel material not only creates insulation for chilled goods, but also moderates the moisture in the air to prevent goods from getting wet in transit.
Pursuit of provenance
The pursuit of provenance will become increasingly important once the UK comes out the other side of the Brexit transition period, says Osborn. He hopes that Fresh Range’s model can be adopted by the major retailers to help mitigate the damage that the food and drink industry could be doing to the environment.
In much the same way that the likes of Sainsbury’s and Tesco introduced local stores to bring their brands closer to consumers, shorter supply chains can bring local produce closer to the retailers as well.
“In the next 10 years, most countries need to look at achieving net-zero carbon emissions on food,” he stresses. “If they don’t, they’re never going to hit the Paris climate agreement – it’s got to happen to avert even more calamitous conditions and consequences of climate change.
“If they don’t, I think they’ll suffer even more than they already are in terms of losing customers to people like us. Change-makers like Fresh Range are critical to show it can be done and I envision the population and our competitors saying, ‘Look, this is how it’s got to be done, otherwise it’s a slow death’, which they are already experiencing. They’re suffering badly as a result of some of the shifts.”