Ruches have sprung up across France, with more than 200 marketplaces created, engaging 15,000 regular customers, and a 700,000€/month turnover. Guilhem is now reaching out to new territories in France and in Europe, beginning with border regions between France and Italy and France and Spain, and has already received requests from the US.
At the foundation of Guilhem’s alternative marketplace is the mobilization of a network of Ruches in cities and towns across France, each led by a community member. Their role is to identify and verify the reliability of and build relationships with local farmers in order to engage them in the local distribution network, while mobilizing consumers in their neighborhoods using advertising and moderating the online community. These local entrepreneurs can make a viable living working part- or full-time on building their Ruche. They receive 10 percent of the turnaround, complementing their income (they can make up to 100 to 2,000€/month (US$127 to $2,550), with an average of 400€ (US$509), while also positively contributing to the community.
Consumers order directly online from their local farmers’ product catalogue (including vegetables, fruits, dairy, meat, seafood, grains baked goods, drinks, groceries and even soap and candles) and every week (or every other week), they pick-up their products close to their home or work. The producers, paid directly online, only arrive if they have a minimum level of orders, which guarantees a profit at the Ruche. At the place of pick-up, consumers’ receive the food directly from producers, and may build a relationship with them, which guarantees the traceability of the food and a sense of belonging to a community.
The first Ruche that is set up in a city or small region is of particular importance, as it opens the market for local producers and leads to the establishment of other Ruches, thus, increasing the demand for local, sustainable products. Ruche entrepreneurs go through a selection process which consists of an application and interview to ensure their fit. Once selected, they undergo training to help them orient to their community and establish their Ruche.
On the production side, Guilhem ensures that his model’s quality will not be undermined. Each farmer who seeks to enter the network undergoes a background check, including ensuring that they have an organic label and sustainable, hygienic practices. Because he knows first-hand the challenges faced by producers to meet regulations, Guilhem is also innovating around the design of products that will enable his distribution model to thrive, such as the creation of affordable, small transportation fridges to allow for the distribution of meat and dairy products.
Guilhem also uses the online platform to collect and analyze data; continually improving the website and making it more user-friendly and useful to the community while also understanding consumption patterns to create a thriving market. With consumer demand as one side, Guilhem’s end focus is to develop sustainable and thriving producers. The Ruche therefore leverages the platform for farmers to collaborate and develop synergies (shared production, shared distribution, and so on). When necessary, Guilhem’s team also offers computer and Internet training to farmers traditionally part of the digital gap.
The online platform also plays a key role in galvanizing the community and helping it grow. In addition to facilitating the buying of products, it is also a place to recruit new consumers and inform them about sustainable consumption, notably through a blog. It also serves for the recruitment of new Ruche Entrepreneurs, who can in turn use the platform to facilitate their work and communicate with their community members. The community has even inspired some consumers to turn to production of artisanal products once they realize there is a market for their amateur skill.