As the first-of-its kind online marketplace for commodities and ingredients, the startup Fieldcraft “simplifies sourcing from farm to foodtech” by giving a virtual storefront and ingredient portfolio to suppliers at every stage of the value chain, from a 10-acre orchard to a 40,000-acre operation and from local processors to global manufacturers, co-founder Michael Chapman said.
He added Fieldcraft then layered on an easy-to-use search engine that for a subscription fee allows buyers from all sized companies, including emerging brands to five of the 25 largest food companies in the world, to search thousands of data points per ingredient and supplier simultaneously. This feature also has attracted buyers from retail chains, such as Whole Foods Market, to research and development firms and food scientists, he added.
“The search feature is our secret sauce,” Chapman explained. “Essentially, our sourcing tools streamline complex inquiries through our proprietary database … and works like a matchmaker to help them find the right ingredients and suppliers more efficiently.”
For example, he explained, the platform’s data is structured in a hierarchy so users can search by broad category, such as fruit, or a specific variety, like highbush blueberry. This allows buyers to quickly zero in on exactly what they want, or if they aren’t sure what they want, to easily browse all the offerings.
“With more than 6,000 unique crops and plant varieties, I know that buyers will find what they need and discover things they never heard about before,” Chapman said, emphasizing that Fieldcraft is about more than commodity crops. It offers the specialty ingredients that buyers and end consumers want, such as ancient grains, plant-based colors for clean label replacements, gluten free flours, aquafaba and other plant-based alternatives to animal products and “coconut in every form.”
Users can further drill down through processing options, such as IQF, flour or protein isolates, production methods (conventional, transitional organic or certified organic), certifications, including organic or gluten-free, and supplier capabilities.
The platform even lets buyers search by solution, such as emulsifiers, antioxidants or egg replacement, so that if they are unsure how to address a challenge they can explore and discover different potential options.
Ultimately, the platform’s sophisticated search mechanism allows buyers to “find the right person, right away” and then form direct partnerships by requesting additional information or asking for quotes, Chapman said.
By offering so many solutions in one place, Chapman said that Fieldcraft not only simplifies the search process, but it also helps suppliers diversify their markets and buyers de-risk their supply chains to protect against disruptions, like those experienced during the first weeks of the coronavirus outbreak.
A one-of-kind platform
Since the pandemic began, several online platforms have launched – many in the works for years before their debut – offering solutions to the multitude of challenges that come with social distancing as well as existing supply chain weaknesses that were further strained when consumers frantically stocked their pantries in mid-March.
But Fieldcraft stands apart in that it offers something other platforms do not, Chapman said.
Reflecting on the competitive landscape, he explained, “there are investor backed marketplaces for large commodities on one end and chemical marketplaces on the other, but this is the only natural ingredient marketplace place. And, more importantly, it is the first to connect the entire supply chain from yello pea to texturized pea protein, which this industry needs. This means we have everything from a yellow pea grower selling to a processor selling to a plant-based protein manufacturer – all in the same place.”
In addition, Fieldcraft can connect buyers to suppliers who do not have another online or digital presence.
“Fifty-four percent of suppliers on Fieldcraft have little or no online presence outside of Fieldcraft. Even the ones that do, suppliers still connect with those suppliers on our platform because they get easier access to what suppliers offer and they can engage with all their suppliers in one place,” he added.
Beyond ‘shaking hands and slapping backs to do deals’
While Fieldcraft is well-suited to offer companies a much-needed gathering space while tradeshows are unavailable as reflected by its 44% week over week growth since the pandemic began, if and when expos come back, Chapman said that Fieldcraft will still be useful because it allows companies to explore without the pressure of a show floor.
Many suppliers and buyers use tradeshows to reconnect with existing partners and they don’t always have time to walk the floor and meet new purveyors, he explained.
In addition, he said, Fieldcraft appeals to the “next generation of innovators who don’t want to rely on shaking hands and slapping backs to do deals. They expect a modern sourcing experience and we are opening these markets for tech-enabled suppliers, including growers with added value crops to manufacturer, who are introducing novel ingredients.”
Currently Fieldcraft is focused on the United States and Canada, but Chapman said the platform will open to Western Europe soon, allowing buyers and suppliers to select additional export regions where they want to sell.
“This does a couple of things. Suppliers get to choose where they want to sell, and buyers in those regions will only see what is actually available in that region,” he said.
Eventually, he said, the platform will expand to nine export regions globally over the next five years.
To make this possible, the company is talking to investors now and Chapman said he hopes to close their seed round shortly.