COVID-19 has created economic challenges across the globe. As businesses navigate through pandemic recovery, many are forced to pivot to a ‘new normal’.

We know that New Brunswickers and their businesses are resilient, innovative, and agile. Many of our companies have adapted to the new reality and are succeeding in a post-COVID-19 world.

One business seeing increased interest is Moncton’s The Farmers’ Truck. Launched in 2015, The Farmers’ Truck provides an affordable mobile market truck solution for organizations to better serve local ‘food deserts’. The company began as a mobile farmers’ market, offering fresh vegetables to Greater Moncton. In 2018, it transitioned to sales of the ultimate mobile market vehicle, these customized trucks help non-profits distribute fresh food to food-insecure households. Now, its ‘Mobile-Market-as-a-Service’ (MMaaS) solution is set to launch in late 2020.

“We did well in summers, but winters were tough,” says CEO and Co-founder Fred Laforge. “So, we pivoted to serving the larger community surrounding mobile farmer’s markets. It’s an emerging market looking at affordable and impactful ways to improve fresh food access in food deserts.”

Laforge says the community’s top pain point was designing and building their mobile farmer’s markets. Drawing on his background in product design, he and his team have since designed the ultimate mobile market truck.

ONB spoke to Laforge to learn how the company has transitioned to a post-pandemic world.

ONB: What’s changed for The Farmers’ Truck post-pandemic?

Fred Laforge The Farmers' Truck New Brunswick Laforge: Market demand has really exploded. With higher unemployment across the continent, people need affordable food options and they want to buy local. We have entered a lot of people’s radars as a result, and this is with no marketing. We’re selling trucks as far away as California, Colorado, North Carolina, and New York.

Still, challenges remain in terms of delivering trucks across the border. We are still navigating that process and likely will continue to deal with those issues in the coming months.

In the long term, will COVID-19 affect the way you do business?

There will certainly be an increased focus on online buying. Nobody really knew how to safely operate a truck during a pandemic, so many people turned to ordering online food boxes. Our Mobile-Market-as-a-Service offering will now include an e-commerce option as part of the platform, so our vendors can easily open an online store to sell food boxes or something similar.

There are plenty of complexities in dealing with the U.S. market. American customers need to be able to use the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, that’s how they access food stamps. The processing requirements are different than what you would normally see with more common e-commerce platforms. We are building custom tools to help these people access food.

I’ll give you an example of what we are tackling. You see, most food insecure individuals often don’t have a smartphone or access to the internet. A lot of these people got laid off in recent weeks and often live in food deserts. We are working on a platform that would allow them to order a food box without accessing the internet, they would do it via SMS or even a payphone. Wherever they are, they can order a box and have it delivered right at home. They can also order and pick up their food at a nearby location.

Farmers' Truck New Brunswick

We are working with our mobile market community on this function. These tools would never be built otherwise because there isn’t much profit to be made. With our MMaaS launching in the fall, so our goal is to keep providing value to our members through their monthly fees. This would be one such value add.

Our company balances what we can charge for and what makes sense because the community needs it, even if it’s not profitable. That’s where the idea of a social enterprise comes in, where we make these decisions based on our values. Our vision is fresh, accessible food in every community. That’s why we’re in business.

Has there been a silver lining for you at all during/since the pandemic?

This has been a good time to slow down and reflect. We’ve been able to take an observer’s position on our own business and think about where we’re going. The lockdown time was time to take stock and think about the future. I appreciated the break, the time to think. Now that we’re moving again it’s rekindled our love for what we do. This is a great gig, honestly.

Lastly, what three words come to mind when thinking of this period?

Creativity, Innovation, Kindness.

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Keep up-to-date on all the support ONB can offer as it relates to dealing with COVID-19.

Written by Jason Boies