Media coverage of the January 2019 oversupply of produce in Benguet led to an alternative way to reach consumers beyond the confines of traditional routes and markets.
With the rise of pop-up weekend stores and day and night markets of healthy products around the metro, as well as more vegan stores and restaurants offering specialty diet options in their menus, the idea of farm-to-table service geared towards practicing a healthy lifestyle clearly found its way to the mainstream. In the spirit of bayanihan, Session Groceries, an online grocery store based in Baguio City, used social media to open its service for orders of Benguet fruits and vegetables to Metro Manila consumers. Using their Facebook page and their website, Session Groceries created a win-win platform by bridging the gap between local farmers and city buyers.
Benguet farmers typically forced to throw away surplus produce are now able to sell directly to interested people in the National Capital Region (NCR), and eventually to other nearby urban areas, at favorable prices. These prices are at a lower rate compared to regular groceries and even many wet markets around Metro Manila.
Iloisa Romaraog, owner of Session Groceries, said that the online store saw a good opportunity to bring farmers and their goods closer to Metro Manila residents, considering how prices of fruits and vegetables in the city markets and groceries are quite high. Session Groceries primarily supplies Benguet produce to the locals of the province through its online grocery platform. Due to the recent surplus problem, they found a burgeoning new market by widening their delivery services to Metro Manila households. It all started with a simple post of the possibility of catering to NCR residents, which readily had positive replies. As their post reached viral status during the January 2019 overproduce crisis in Benguet, questions from social media started pouring in. In no time, queries about how to buy vegetables from the farmers through Session Groceries led to actual sales.
With news coverage showing sacks of fruits and vegetables being left to rot in Benguet, more and more netizens called to support the farmers in their plight and many started highlighting how this would indeed be a win-win option for both the farmers and the consumers. The lack of multiple middlemen operations before getting the produce ready for sale to the end consumers would allow the farmers to fairly decide the prices of their fruits and vegetables. At the same time, consumers should be able to save money, while getting nutritious food sources for their daily consumption – and they exactly know where their produce came from and who were the farmers behind them.
Session Groceries identified this opportunity to bridge farmers directly to consumers while getting rid of the middlemen that add up to the cost of produce on sale in markets and grocery stores. The accessibility of social media and the world wide web now makes it possible for this initiative to thrive as buyers directly avail of produce from the farmers via Session Groceries and there is no minimum order required for buyers. While bulk orders are very helpful for farmers in minimizing expenses for deliveries to Session Groceries, the number of individual orders from Metro Manila still makes things viable.
This isn’t the first time that Session Groceries reached out to the public for the benefit of Benguet farmers. When Typhoon Ompong ravaged Baguio City and other nearby areas, it was able to successfully organize an online call for donations. At this point, it is said that this initiative does not yet gain Session Groceries reasonable profit as a business, but the mileage they gain and the fulfillment they get go way beyond the current economic activity required for such a start-up company exploring new ways to service goods for sale and distribution.
With more and more people and groups supporting this endeavor, improved ways to make the work involved more efficient and better carried out should be seen in the near future. Recent developments include the plan to create a mobile application for better means of ordering and delivery of goods. Session Groceries also plan to eventually expand its service to other parts of Luzon including Pampanga, Cavite, Batangas, and Laguna. Although it started with shipping orders to Manila via provincial bus with bus terminal meet-ups, it is already starting with its door-to-door service slowly but surely.
This advocacy was able to stop highland farmers as far as Mountain Province and Benguet from dumping their excess supply, which was a detrimental effect of the typhoons that struck Northern Luzon during the latter part of 2018. Produce supposedly harvested in December was delayed due to weather disturbances. Although the supply chain has since returned to normal, the halted harvest from the prior month meant produce already been harvested back then were still available in trading posts. The oversupply meant a significant drop in prices and even dumping tons of vegetables and fruits due to the low demand. This is unsustainable for the farmers that they were left with no choice but to forcefully dump their stocks.
Clearly, the government should start addressing the lapses in crop programming and troubleshooting measures to adapt with climate issues. But in the mean time, solutions like this taking advantage of media opportunities available through social media and the web become a mutually beneficial initiative for both the farmers and the end consumers.
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