Food Chain: City Council and Pratt Helping Locavores Bring Their Food to Markets (and Bodegas, Too)

mcclures and pickles Food Chain: City Council and Pratt Helping Locavores Bring Their Food to Markets (and Bodegas, Too)

The McClures—from their kitchen to yours. (AwesomePickle.com)

Small-scale artisan food is all the rage in New York, from emu mayonnaise to jams in a rainbow of colors and flavors. But besides the farmer’s market, it is not always easy to find such goods at the local bodega or grocery store, given the expense of distribution.

Bob McClure’s, purveyor of his eponymous pickles began a delivery cooperative back in December with the intention to consolidate the time it takes for small food businesses to quickly and affordable bring their goods to store shelves. Pallets of pickled products, jarred provisions and food service items destined for restaurant kitchens and retail outlets packed McClure’s truck, with deliveries to more than 100 different locations.

“Every time we would try to deliver, we would try to deliver a full truck,” Bob McClure, co-founder of Bob McClure’s Pickles, told The Observer. “How the cooperative would’ve worked is that most of the same manufacturers were going to the same location at any given time.”

McClure’s cooperative came to an end only a few months after it started, but the City Council is hoping to learn from it and similar projects, making it easier for local food purveyors to sell their wares across the five boroughs. It has partnered with the Pratt Center for Community Development to help develop a study to understand possible models for locavore food distribution.

“This commercial sector has  remained a bright spot throughout the recession and has established itself as a hotbed of economic activity in the city,” Council Speaker Quinn said in an announcement about the program. “However, this sector can still be made stronger. With the information gleaned from this study, we will take important steps to help our local food makers identify new markets for their products and help get their goods there at a lower cost.”

Adam Friedman, director of the Pratt Center, said he has not delved into the logistics of Mr. McClure’s cooperative, but that he did take a brief look at it and how it could be revamped for future models.

“In a way, we’re responding to their needs,” Mr. Friedman said of these small businesses. “They actually initiated this project.”

The goal of the study is to research how to reduce costs and environmental impacts when there are many small manufacturers delivering to the same outlet. “We were already delivering product for our company,” Mr. McClure said. Why not do a favor for his colleagues, and the environment, as well.

Mr. Friedman said part of the challenge is to not only to focus on more efficiently moving products to shelves but to facilitate the flow of important business data back to the manufacturer. “The small entrepreneurs and small manufacturers will get a lot of information about their own product,” he said. “Get facts about how it’s selling, how consumers respond to it and how to get new products.”

The one-year study will be complete by next summer.