One episode of the BBC’s rural affairs magazine television show Countryfile recently demonstrated the opportunity and the failure to realise the opportunity digital methods offer. In one report a trio of Cornish fishermen uploaded images to their Twitter feed of crabs and lobsters as they hoisted nets from the Atlantic and triggered an online market that ensured that as soon as they landed their catch the day’s fishing was revenue generating.
A second story saw a large fruit and vegetable farmer bemoaning the new Living Wage from the Conservative government and threatening to leave the UK in order to continue to meet the needs of their supermarket clients.
Two different scales of business and therefore different complexities and as a lifelong rural resident I fully understand how challenging agriculture and fishing is. What fascinated me was that it was the smallest business and, dare I say it, the oldest workers, that were being the most innovative.
What appealed to me most about the Cornish fishermen was their understanding that some simple digital tools – iPhone, Twitter account, good network access – and a focus on quality products had then created a community. That community then created a market as leading retailers and restaurants used the same digital methods to secure the freshest and best quality products available.
The major fruit and vegetable farmer was married to the highly competitive market of serving supermarkets. I feel for this farmer and have seen first hand how supermarkets treat the UK’s farmers and CIOs in the import and supply chain sector have also shared with me their experiences of the David versus Goliath world they have to operate in. Back in 2010 I recall Microsoft executives sharing with me how hard dealing with Tesco for a license agreement was; yes Microsoft smarting from some tough dealing. But the issue is that the fruit and vegetable farmer was not exploring alternative markets.
In 2016, in any vertical market, you have the ability to create a space and revenue stream in the marketplace. Our fruit and vegetable farmer is based in Essex with a large workforce. With the nation’s capital a stone’s throw away and I’d hazard a guess the bulk of the workforce carrying a smartphone, this farmer could be opening up new market channels.
Supermarkets buy fresh food on aesthetics, yet a city of people who want fresh are just down the road. Digital methods enable creators to take out the middle-man who increasingly offers less and less value because digital enables a creators to manage and deal directly with their community (it was ever thus, but that’s for another day).
Our Cornish fishermen used digital methods to empower themselves in an industry beset with challenges; natural, political, technical and geographic. The vegetable farmer should be empower their team and organisation to build a new marketplace. Digital technology augments the strengths of creators who can fish or farm.
In today’s fragile and fast changing economy, digital is an opportunity to own a piece of the marketplace and not be bullied to dilute quality.