A new platform was recently launched in Nelson that has the potential to be a real gamechanger for local businesses operating within the food and beverage sector.
Ballasters is an online marketplace that allows producers in the Kootenays to sell directly to customers by using its platform.
“Giving people easy access to fresh, sustainable food keeps grocery money in the community and delicious meals on the tables of locals tables,” said Geoff Austin founder of Ballasters.
Austin, along with his partners Adam Pearl and Cory Siegner are passionate about fishing and farming.
"In the fishing industry, the brokers control the price. That applies to farming as well,” Austin explained.
However, businesses can adjust their prices to reflect operating costs when they can sell direct to consumers.
Direct from business owner to customer
Ballasters is a site designed to empower business owners and reduce the negative effects of the middleman.
“The final nail in the coffin for us starting up this site was when I was at a food show in Vancouver,” Austin explained.
“There were two women from Vancouver Island selling honey mussels. They had a quality, incredible product but if they could not sell to the big brokers, they could not sell their product.”
That was the idea that sparked the Ballasters website.
Ballasters, the local online food platform, which features over 90 businesses, facilitates people purchasing directly from food producers and brings back balance to the local food system.
Consumers can find all the local food and beverage businesses in one online source, while direct access allows business owners to highlight, explain and promote their respective products.
“When hard-working producers profit rather than the middlemen, their livelihoods are stabilized which also benefits our community, as well as the more educated consumers of today,” Austin exclaimed.
“We all need to eat and prefer to do it well.”
Nelson businessmen Geoff Austin and Cory Siegner have been making the rounds to meet vendors for Ballasters.com website.
How the pandemic benefited the consumer
Ballasters is the pet project of Austin, Pearl and Siegner.
The trio opened its first Fisherman’s Market store in Nelson in 2003 before expanding the business to include locations in Kelowna, Kamloops, West Vancouver, and Gibsons.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the owners shifted to selling direct to the customer at home and relying less on wholesale orders.
During these changing times, Ballasters provides a user-friendly system for the vendor and the customer to connect in a virtual marketplace,” Ballasters said.
“It’s no longer a secret where to find the sweetest honey and corn, grass-fed beef, and the freshest vegetables.”
Austin said the success of Ballasters has been overwhelming.
A prime example is one of the site's pork producers.
The owner uses Ballasters.
The producers' page on the Ballasters’ site has a Google map feature to indicate the address and display the location, a social media hub to connect customers to their brand, a showcase which displays the products available and highlights their unique qualities, as well as availability and a price list.
The customer fills their online shopping cart and selects whether delivery is made or pick-up at the farm, a market, or a specified address.
Austin said even though the pork producer was already doing business in the Kootenays for a long time, the business benefits immensely after being discovered by more customers.
And by using Ballasters, there is an immediate connection between the business and customer.
“Our goal is finding new customers for these businesses,” Austin said.
“We are driving customers right around their community to the growers, and the business owners are excited about this.”
Keeping food money in the Kootenays
Ballasters said communities are strengthened through localizing food systems; that money goes back into the local economy while the time between harvesting food and its destination on the consumer’s table is lessened.
Vendors gain resilience in the marketplace by connecting directly to customers.
Food harvesting knowledge is passed onto future farmers.
This newly discovered but ancient food distribution structure allows for smaller and more ecologically sound food growing practices.
“Vendors can come together safely to create a well-rounded shopping experience outside the superstore structure,” Austin said.
”The joy of farmer’s market shopping is still available no matter the circumstances.”
For more information on Ballasters go to the website at https://ballasters.com/