Affixed to a finger like a thimble is a tiny scanner. In the cold-storage room for fresh produce at Farmy, an employee nimbly picks the goods on order from a jungle of racks and places them in brown paper sacks that pass by slowly in boxes on a conveyor belt. Four pounds of apples and a bunch of carrots, a bag of Brussels sprouts and three red beets – the time, quantity and origin have already been zapped with the finger scanner.
And whoosh . . . the box is gone – off to the next room, where perhaps some milk and meat are added to round things out. The entire process repeats until everything ordered the previous day by Farmy’s customers is packed and ready to go. “Tonight, this whole place will be empty again,” says Roman Hartmann with no small pride. Later, just past midnight, the orders are already under way. In the morning, at latest by 10:30, the goods arrive at one of the company’s two logistics centres in Zurich or Lausanne, where they’re prepared for delivery to consumers.
Gold medal discipline in e-commerce
Due to the perishable nature of the products, speed and reliable logistics are the alpha and omega in the online food retailing business. “Ours is the gold medal discipline in the field of e-commerce,” Tobias Schubert is convinced. Four years ago, he and Roman Hartmann, who got to know each other while working for a major food retailer, founded Farmy.ch, an online market for transparent, farm-fresh food shopping. Their first move, though, was to conduct an exhaustive analysis of the potential demand in select European markets. Switzerland, where the online share of food retailing is a mere 2 per cent, clearly stood out as an ideal test market.
Depending on the season, between 4,000 and 7,000 products, the majority of which come from Switzerland, are now on the company’s virtual shelves. The goods themselves are showcased in a small studio, where digitalised producer profiles enable customers to gain insight and inspiration from stories about the origin and cultivation of the produce. “Through virtual visits to farms and farmers, we create affinity and transparency,” says Tobias Schubert. Not everyone has the possibility to go to the weekly farmers market at the break of day. “For most people, farms are not just a short hop around the corner, and the range of produce at individual farm stands – if you can even find them – is limited.”
“Through virtual visits to farms and farmers, we create affinity and transparency.”
Today, close to 600 different small-scale producers are suppliers to Farmy, including vegetable farmers, bakers, vintners and butchers. 35 permanent employees work at the offices in Zurich, Lausanne and Barcelona. In addition, at peak times as many as 50 part-time employees attend to the storage, packaging and transport of the food on order. And a subsidiary in Spain is responsible for programming Farmy’s apps and software routines.
Hartmann and Schubert are convinced that the future lies in digital shopping. With the company’s affordable delivery costs and exemplary ecological footprint, they want to set Farmy apart from the competition in a Swiss market that is otherwise dominated by powerful retail food giants.