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August 30, 2017

Maine Food Insider: Forbes names Forager as startup 'likely to make a splash'

Courtesy / Forager
Portland-based digital food sourcing platform Forager was named by the Forbes Technology Council this month as one of eight startups across the country that are going to transform their industry.

One of the many goals of Portland-based digital food sourcing platform Forager is "to put Maine on the map" for food technology.

So far, it's working. The startup, which launched in March, was named by the Forbes Technology Council this month as one of eight startups across the country that are going to transform their industry.

Forager digitally connects local farmers to grocers, co-ops and other food buyers and sellers. The company was also recognized in April by Fast Company magazine's "United States of Innovation" issue, which chose a startup from each state as an innovation leader.

"Forager is going to make waves," the Forbes Tech Council said in its article, which listed "lesser-known tech startups whose unique approach and innovative services will more than likely turn them into household names in the near future." The Tech Council is made up of leading CIOs, CTOS and executives.

"This company changes the way we source food, making locally grown options more readily available," said Tammy Cohen, of InfoMart, in the article. "The technology that Forager implements will transform a billion-dollar industry that affects every single one of us."

Of the eight startups listed, Forager was the only one that was food or agriculture-based.

No stranger to startups

Courtesy / Forager
Courtesy / Forager
Serial entrepreneur David Stone, who counts CashStar among his successful companies, on March 20 started his sixth venture, Forager, which helps farmers, local grocers and buyers track orders all the way through payments online.

Forager founder and CEO David Stone, told Mainebiz Tuesday that while he's not surprised that the company is getting noticed for its innovation and work, it is a surprise that attention is focused on "a little startup in Portland, Maine."

Stone, who also cofounded CashStar, the digital gift card business, is no stranger to startups. Forager is his sixth.

Forager aims to remove some of the barriers to getting local food from farms into local stores and the hands of consumers, a goal that also taps into what he sees is the increasing desire of people to make change in a positive way.

"There's a strong undercurrent of people wanting to do some good while they do well," Stone said.

He believes what Forager is doing is important as well as "so fundamental" — largely because here's a lack of innovation in the agriculture and food industry despite the growing attention to buying locally produced products.

"The demand is there, but [ways to meet it] are constrained," he said.

Making inroads in a tradition-bound industry

Forager has a free platform for farmers that lists products available and prices, as well as fee-based one for grocers, food co-ops and wholesalers who want to see what products are available from which farmers. The company has more than 100 suppliers in Maine and some other states, and is rolling out farther into New England and New York state with some early successful trials.

When Stone launched Forager, he told Mainebiz that while Mainers buy 6% of their food locally, which is twice the national average, he wondered why it was so low. He said the $14 billion locally produced food market is ripe for expansion.

"But that could be 15% in Maine by 2020 or 2021," Stone said. "Some 90% of consumers look for freshness, and 40% now buy local food weekly."

Noting that Maine is second in consuming locally produced food, he said, "We'd like to make it first."

While the tech industry loves Forager, Stone said that there are challenges, including making inroads in an industry that has done things a certain way for so long.

There's a faction that gets it and loves it, another that's willing to learn, and then a third group that isn't interested in using technology or changing how they do things, he said.

"It takes time and a ton of effort and dedication," he said.

When Fast Company named Forager the state's innovation star in May, Stone said, "By digitizing the B2B sales and sourcing process, we hope to ignite the local food economy and be a key player in the 'Good Food Movement."

Four months later and another national accolade bestowed, Stone said the company is exactly where he expected it to be.

"We're doing what we thought we would do," he said.

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