Open Road: a new delivery model
In the wake of Australia Post’s recent decision to discontinue carriage of perishable food, which caused a national outcry and subsequent rapid reversal on the ban, a potential alternative has been offered to the many small to medium-sized local producers who depend upon delivery services to get their goods to customers around the country. Non-profit organisation Open Food Network Australia is piloting Open Road, a collaborative, producer-focused direct delivery service for perishable goods.
It’s certainly a timely move. When Australia Post announced it would be discontinuing delivery of certain foods, it placed many small producers and community-run food hubs and co-ops at serious risk. These businesses were already vulnerable in the new “COVID-normal”. Among those affected by Australia Post’s now reversed announcement were some of the 10,000 users of Open Food Network Australia’s independent online sales services.
Online sales are booming
In the last year, Australian producers and consumers have had to turn to online sales to sell and access goods. According to a recent report by KPMG, the retail industry saw five years of online retail growth in just six months. But the COVID-19 pandemic exposed a major vulnerability in our food supply chain – logistics management.
Research by Open Food Network found logistics represent 30 percent of food producers’ costs. Sometimes it’s more, as their own hours spent driving are rarely factored in. Many rely on Australia Post as courier services or personal delivery are cost-prohibitive. Further, state regulations surrounding the delivery of perishable items are often difficult to navigate.
The open road to empowerment
As producers and shops now consider alternative grocery logistics, the trial of Open Road will begin as a delivery service in Victoria. Like Open Food Network’s shopping platform, this is a low-cost social enterprise with the aim to nurture, educate and empower producers. Open Road guarantees that its low cost, unincorporated model will never be sold or exposed to radical, corporate-style changes.
The plan has two parts. The first is moving food in both directions between regional Victoria and metro Melbourne. The second is a brokerage to help producers reach more customers.
“The lynchpin of Open Road is the drivers,” says Serenity Hill, Open Food Network co-founder. “Instead of a random driver, at both ends of the service there will be a familiar and trusted face. We see the drivers as honey bees, circulating out to collect and connect while servicing food hubs and distribution centres.”
Open Road Coordinator Amelia Bright has deep knowledge of logistics and coordination of deliveries via Prom Coast Food Collective: “I see retailers like grocers, delis, health food stores and bakeries as key players, connecting with others in the state,” she says.
Plans to grow
The service will begin with a Hume Highway loop, working with food hubs such as Strathbogie Local, Wangaratta Farmers’ Market and Beechworth Food Co-Op. A South-East loop will work with hubs such as Baw Baw Food Hub and Prom Coast Food Collective. In Melbourne, among the first to join are Melbourne Farmers’ Markets and CERES Fair Food.
If the trial is a success, Open Road will spread to multiple locations. Regionally, some producers may also act as temporary warehousers. This will provide central pick-up points in areas where there’s no local food co-operative available.
Open Road is now open to producers, co-ops and retailers. For more information or to register, head to the Open Road website.