Thursday, December 8, 2022

Interview with founder of farm to plate marketplace, Half A Cow Online, James Gilbert

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Company overview – Half A Cow Online Pty Ltd

What is Half A Cow?

Our mission is to bring great-tasting meat to the consumer, direct from their local farmer and butcher. Our platform enables farmers to sell their cows as “meat”. Farmers become their own brand with their own loyal customers.

By capturing more of the “value add” in the cow-to-meat product cycle, we are helping farmers to become price setters within their local communities and empowering them with an online marketplace alternative to the sale yard system.

Our platform is built from the ground up, to help farmers sell directly to consumers. It solves many of the logistical, financial, and technical challenges often associated with that process.

We have created an attractive sales avenue for farmers, by lowering the risk and complexities which come from moving up the value chain of food supply. This has encouraged early uptake of our platform and allowed us to refine the farmer and consumer experience quickly.

The vision

The vision is simple. We want as many local farms as possible to be able to sell fresh local meat, to local consumers – across Australia and even the world!

Currently people are disconnected from their food, and long supply chains add to price pressures and environmental concerns. (Cow-lometers!)

The Half A Cow platform allows individual consumers to search for and find a local farm that suits their needs. They can even browse by breed, finishing type, grain-fed, grass-fed and more! This enables local consumers to really connect with a farm and become loyal customers who will purchase repeatedly through our platform.

Business model

Meat

With our marketplace platform, farmers have their own online store page and sell their meat directly to customers. Each farm is required to use an accredited meat processor and butcher to satisfy Australian meat processing standards.

While we grow, we are deliberately keeping our fees to a minimum to encourage uptake from farmers. This will help us supply more people in more places. We are focused on supporting farmers in their journey to become local suppliers. As our platform becomes stronger, and gains greater public recognition and interest, there is scope to increase our transaction fees, and access other revenue streams such as top of list advertising, paid farm promotions and other advertising ventures.

Our main revenue focus will be on growing our marketplace volume, both in sales events and overall turnover, with the vision of building the Half A Cow platform into a household name for the best place to buy fresh meat at great value.

We are already working with a diverse range of farms across South Australia, as well as a number of established brands. Wholesale butchers have also joined the system and have had very strong sales. This early adoption from a range of different farms and business types has given us great confidence that we are doing the right thing by farmers. With over $100,000 in sales, it appears to be the right thing for consumers too!

Website: https://www.halfacow.farm/

More than just cows

About James Gilbert

James lives on 30 acres in Brukunga surrounded by farmers! He has run his own IT company for over 10 years and helped many clients build their own web based projects. James has also completed a Management and Marketing Commerce Degree from the University of Adelaide.

Interview with James Gilbert

ARR.News: How did you come upon the name ‘Half A Cow’?

James Gilbert: Essentially it was a natural extension of how farmers “asked” me if I wanted to buy meat. When you break down a cow into meat it’s done per “side” so you’ve got 2 halves of the animal, or “half a cow”.

ARR.News: How did the whole idea arise?

James Gilbert: I have an IT background and I’ve bought meat from a local farmer for years. I missed out one year and found it difficult to find another supplier. I also asked why the original farmer didn’t sell all their cows this way, but only to friends and family. The reasons she gave were mainly logistical, chasing payments, chasing customers, chasing cut sheets and marketing. I figured I could solve these issues with a website, so I thought well why not make a platform for all farmers.

ARR.News: How is Half a Cow different from other ‘direct from farm to plate’ models?

James Gilbert: We’re a marketplace, so an individual farm can register and sell their stock (as meat) under their brand. Customers can connect with a truly local farm and may even be buying from around the corner! From the farmer perspective, as they’re not having to supply “year round” just when they have stock available, it means a small producer can also benefit from “value adding’ in a way they usually can’t do. We’re not a monolithic brand, each farm has their own store, and their own prices. We do help farms a bit with their pricing and their products if they aren’t sure where to start, but ultimately they are in control.

ARR.News: The Swarmer fund-raising campaign seems to be going ok being over half the target of $100,000 raised and 16 days [as at 24 November 2022] to go – are you happy about it?

James Gilbert: Yes very, 100k is the minimum we want to raise, 600k is the max, with crowdfunding you get a huge uptake in the last 3 days, and the larger investors take a few days to mull things over. Check back this afternoon and it may much higher.

We had over 1.2m of “expressed interest” so we’re confident we’ll raise between 300k and 500k which will help us achieve our short term national expansion goals.

ARR.News: Why did you choose crowdfunding as opposed to other forms of funding?

James Gilbert: With Equity Crowdfunding people are receiving shares, it’s not a “gift” or a “donation”; they share in our success or failure in the future. It also meant people could invest from as little as $100, which appealed to me as we’re all about a somewhat democratic platform helping out the little farmers, so it made sense to have the same policy when seeking investors.

The other side of the coin is that we also have had massive social support and engagement, and the response on social media has been fantastic. We definitely wanted to harness that goodwill in a way that could benefit our mission.

ARR.News: It would appear that you will have at least 72 new shareholders – lots of key rings! At least 72 new shareholders could be a bit of a logistical challenge for a small company – what are your plans in regard to investor relations?

James Gilbert: There are some software systems that Swarmer have recommended which helps with compliance etc. We’ll put together a monthly or similar investor email which will explain our current goals and successes. Most of the people who have invested have been following the company for a while now through Facebook where we also regularly put updates.

ARR.News: Food safety – what steps do you take to ensure that meat is kept properly and delivered freshly?

James Gilbert: Most farms don’t deliver, customers can collect from the local butcher who provide those esky things. If a farm is offering delivery they have to provide proof of an accredited vehicle. That’s a PIRSA requirement so if they don’t do that then the farm / butcher is breaking the law. We also run through with farms when they join the platform on the requirements around safe meat processing and handling.

ARR.News: How has the idea been received by farmers?

James Gilbert: Very well. We have about 30 active farms at the moment on the platform and about 150 who are “waiting” to either see how things go, or for their stock to be ready. From SA, NSW, Vic, Tas and WA! However, we still want to have many more local farms in more places. It’s nice to get the first farm onboard in a new state / territory, but it’s the first of many!

ARR.News: Are industry groups such as Meat & Livestock Australia supportive?

James Gilbert: We have been shortlisted for the Farmers 2 Founders Harvest program. I did a 1.5hr meeting with the judges yesterday, I will find out in December if we are successful. The part I am involved with is sponsored by the MLA. (So I guess that is a yes?)

ARR.News: Are SA Farmers Federation and other farmer groups supportive?

James Gilbert: Yes, I believe so, most of our farms are in SA, and we did sell over 100k worth of meat in the first 12 weeks. In fact we sold out of some farms entirely! We have attended many ag shows around the state (Millicent, Meadows, Uraidla, Echunga) and spoken to many people and many farmers and the feedback has been universally positive.

ARR.News: How have the established players, e.g. supermarkets and local town butchers, responded?

James Gilbert: In our model, the local town butcher stands to benefit, either from partnering with local farmers and selling sides, OR by doing the “cut up” for the farmers for which they generally charge about $600 – 800 per cow. We’re not trying to take work away from the local butcher, and truth be told, two of our best customers on the platform are wholesale regional butchers who’ve got access to a new market. Customers have been happy to drive from Adelaide to Murray bridge to pick up their ¼ cow! Not exactly a local sale lost!

ARR.News: How are you promoting Half A Cow?

James Gilbert: We’ve done a bit of radio, (FiveAA, PowerFM, 5MU) and a heap of Facebook advertising that has worked well. And, again, the agricultural shows are pretty good too.

ARR.News: What promotional plans do you have in the future?

James Gilbert: I think the ag shows are really important to keep going to them, it puts a human face on the company and people can ask questions. Facebook ads will be a part of moving forward and Google ads as well. It does of course depend on how much we raise and how quickly our farmer base grows.

ARR.News: Currently you are a small team, do you plan to hire additional staff with the funds raised?

James Gilbert: Yes.

ARR.News: How else will you apply the funds?

James Gilbert: Rebuilding the platform with some new features to make finding exactly what meat a customer wants is a must. We’ll be building a web app too with a mobile focus. There are also a number of features to help make farmers lives easier that we intend to implement with version 2.

ARR.News: Do you see expansion overseas as a possibility?

James Gilbert: Yes absolutely. We’ll need to research the regulatory challenges and figure out the payment systems, but I think that the general process from paddock to plate would be the same regardless of country.

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