Digital tastes better
“In the morning, the carrots are still growing in the ground. By late afternoon, they are ready and waiting at the customer’s front door,” said company founder Theresa Imre, highlighting the short and quick route that the markta vegetables have in front of them. The idea behind it is ingenious, with lots of digital expertise, too. markta is about more than just providing fresh farm produce from fruit and veg to fish, meat and local delicacies. Since its foundation in 2017, it has been calling established food retail structures into question. Imre: “It’s about making sure that less produce is thrown out and the producers receive fair compensation for their products.”
Setting the system to rights
For the company’s Styrian-born founder – a resident of Vienna for 10 years – the underlying issues are hard-wired into the system. “It is incredibly difficult for small-scale producers to survive. In the 20 years I spent growing up in Styria, the number of smallholdings halved,” she confirmed. Her statement of intent is clear: “Appreciation of our producers and the value they add needs to be restored.”
Imre also questioned why so much food ends up being thrown out. And as a business studies and economics graduate, she found the answers: “The established food retail industry has very rigid structures. This system is geared towards volumes fixed long in advance, rather than harvesting crops when they are actually ripe and needed.” Imre wanted to do things a little differently and avoid repeating the same mistakes that plague conventional retail.
Convenience for all concerned
Full of passion for the subject, Imre – who is also a multi-award-winning food blogger – decided to take the plunge. First up, she launched a webshop where small-scale farmers were able to sell their locally-produced goods. But she soon discovered that “it wasn’t set up properly because each producer started using it to offer and send their own produce independently of each other.” So it was time to go back to the drawing board to come up with a solution that made sense for customers and producers alike. Imre’s approach: “It had to be convenient to use, practical and easy to understand for all concerned.” And it was no sooner said than done.
Next came a phase of digital fine-tuning, during which Imre came to value the city’s funding strategy. “Getting funding approved by the Vienna Business Agency for innovative services was one of the most important triggers for getting the project off the ground in the first place.” Professionalization of the value chain in the form of standardizing and digitalizing all processes was targeted immediately: from procedures in place at individual farms to customer orders and delivery. And there was a lot to do.
No more waste
Imre: “In some cases, our partners were still working with faxes.” Ultimately, the markta programmers were able to come up with a system that digitized all of the processes involved. “We’re operating on a just-in-time basis. And that means the producers only harvest and deliver the produce that’s ordered. Precise forecasts make it possible to eliminate waste,” Imre explained. Anyone who orders from markta can be sure of the quality and freshness of the goods. “Normally the process takes 12 hours from start to finish. One of the positive side effects is that the produce stays fresher for longer for the customer,” she added.
The inauguration of a logistics center in Vienna with plenty of cold storage in summer 2019 added the missing link to the chain. “All of our producers drop off their goods there. The facility also enables them to deliver larger amounts of produce at once.” The individual boxes are put together at the logistics center, ready for delivery to the customer’s doorstep. This also helps to cut the amount of packaging used. The spring 2020 lockdown proved beyond any doubt that markta is on the right path. “The number of orders jumped by a factor of four, from 150 a week to more than 2,500,” she concluded