Do you wish there was a way to cut through the noise on social media and get right to the good stuff? Such as, where are the nearby restaurants serving local food, and what specials are they offering right now? Turns out there’s a website for that: Localvore, found at localvore.co, takes a user’s location and pulls up a scrolling list of restaurants, beverage makers, farmers, and other food producers. Consumers can create a free account, then sign in and add their favorites to a personalized list that generates a social media-style feed of posts sharing specials, deals or offers to donate a portion of sales to a nonprofit. The result is a feed on food showing posts like, “Warm chili on this cold day!” with a link to a profile of Zabby & Elf’s Stone Soup, with their location, hours, contact information and a mapping feature to find your way. On the other side of the interaction, businesses like Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier, Hatchet in Richmond, Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, and Citizen Cider in Burlington, join as merchants listed in a directory of all things local food and drink. Any merchant can be added to the directory for free, though they have limited posting ability, while paying merchants can join at different levels, allowing them to create their own campaigns to gain more customers. The team providing this food-lover matchmaking has grown considerably, after being founded in 2012 by Michael Nedell, Dan White and Meg Randall. Localvore, Inc. began as a social-media marketing business, founded on a mission-driven business model that supports Vermont’s local food and consumer products businesses. In its early years, the company offered a suite of digital services that allowed local businesses to connect with socially conscious consumers in their community and measure the impact of their investment. In order to grow their business and support more local markets, the founders created the online platform we see today, which connects consumers to food growers and producers. The new effort helps people discover what’s happening in their community, with a focus on local food growers, restaurants and food producers who are sourcing locally, creating high-quality products, working with partners within their communities and making sustainable business choices. Co-founder Dan White says it’s the small businesses sourcing locally that he wants to work with by helping them become more profitable. “We didn’t invent the farm-to-table movement,” he says, referring to the rising popularity of eating local food. Instead, he says of their role, “We’re putting purposeful technology behind it.” The Localvore platform allows merchants to track the performance of their efforts, and White says they can easily see interactions on the website turn into profits. Consumers can buy vouchers, for example, often at a discount, which retailers can use to track sales. “They can see the numbers right through their profile,” says White. “So they can track their performance better than with radio ads or Facebook.” Localvore recently broadened its digital platform to provide a free marketing service for Vermont and regional farms, which can join the online marketing platform for free and access the same membership benefits as paying members. Based in Burlington, the company is continuing to grow by expanding operations outside of Vermont, to connect consumers with restaurants using local sourcing in Boston and Portland, Maine. The growth is applauded by organizations like the Flexible Capital Fund, a mission-based lender that provides creative financing to help portfolio companies grow, particularly in the areas of food systems, renewable energy and climatechange solutions. The Flexible Capital Fund made an initial investment in Localvore of $250,000 in royalty financing for personnel growth, and then followed that with an additional $150,000 to support building the technology platform and help expand to Portland and Boston. The investment is aimed at producing more jobs and growing Vermont’s local food economy. “Accelerated market expansion creates new, good-paying, quality jobs for Vermonters and increases traffic to Vermont-branded companies.” said Janice St. Onge, president of the Flexible Capital Fund. White says there is power in profitability for these companies, which are often small businesses. “The small business is going to make this [farm to table] movement,” he says. “So that’s why we want to support them.”
Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect that Flexible Capital's total investment was $400,000.