When registering with HelloChoice, a business-to-business online trading platform of agricultural products, the welcome message bids the new user, now a member of the growing HelloChoice tribe, “Hello Freedom”.
“We give as much choice as possible to buyers, who are always trying the source the best product as cheaply and efficiently as possible, while producers look for as many buyers as possible at the best price,” explains Grant Jacobs, co-founder with Graeme Jarvie of HelloChoice in 2018.
Back: Graeme Jarvie (co-founder), George Harris (trade advisor), Rohan Orford (macadamia specialist). Front: Grant Jacobs, CEO and co-founder (photos supplied by HelloChoice)
Taking the guesswork out of finding sellers & buyers
“Because it’s online, we overcome the barriers of time and space. What happens at the moment, if a buyer is looking for a product, they have to call or visit seventeen municipal markets or call 500 farmers to access their products. It becomes challenging. From a seller perspective: the seller has to guess where the buyer is, facing the decision of where to send it every day.”
There has been tremendous uptake and tremendous interest across the spectrum in their platform, he notes, with eight to twelve new users registering every day.
HelloChoice brings those parties together in a virtual space where transparency is vital. “We allow the seller to know who the buyer is. Producers are often isolated from their buyers, they don’t know who their buyers are, and they don’t receive feedback. We enable engagement between buyers and sellers, so a buyer can advise a producer on, say, packaging which, from product development and a customer service perspective, becomes very important.”
Reducing unnecessary transport of perishable product
The supply chain is optimized because currently, a perishable product often moves at risk, with no certainty regarding either the buying or selling price as it leaves the farm. At HelloChoice, a product only moves once it’s sold.
Grant points to the absurdity of transporting perishable produce across the country regardless of the location of seller and buyer, in the process losing days of valuable shelf life.
“Rather than the product first going to a central depot and then to the receiver… one hears stories of buyers getting a product from a farmer who’s 50km down the road, but it was bought at a market 500km away from them both.”
Through HelloChoice the buyer and seller have the power of knowing what product is available where in the country.
Fruit for sale on the Buy-It-Now (BIN) marketplace of the HelloChoice platform
Trade has redoubled every 8 months
The platform has just finished its second year of trade, during which they have been redoubling every eight months. There are 1,400 qualified buyers and sellers on the system.
Most buyers are independent retailers and wholesalers who can take decisions quicker than large retailers with complicated procurement processes, says Grant. They are often much more price-sensitive and price-conscious than the large chains, Grant notes. Agents from a group like Spar also make use of HelloChoice.
“There has been quite a bit of uptake from small and emerging farmers in KwaZulu-Natal, the bulk of them vegetable farmers, although connectivity and even cell phone coverage can be an issue for farmers in rural areas.
Efficient bidding process
Every morning an auction takes place. A seller sets out the product for sale with a starting price, to which buyers respond. A price calculator assists a producer in working out the farm gate price, along with seasonal pricing guidelines.
If a buyer needs more, s/he can top up on produce after the auction. HelloChoice handles the administration process, providing an invoicing service for farmers.
The seller landing page on the HelloChoice platform
“We pay farmers within 24 hours, offering them quick cash flow turnaround cycles. We make it simple, and we make it quick.”
The platform margin depends on the agricultural commodity and size of the transaction, varying from 1.5% (for bulk commodities like sugar and meat) to 7.5% for low-volume, speciality product (like dragonfruit or gooseberries).
Fresh produce is their core, but when a potato farmer on their database requested them to sell his dry beans as well, they started expanding their basket of products.
Nursery products: a new addition to HelloChoice
Recently the platform has also started offering nursery products, in request to growers who had trouble sourcing products in that area. Recently, Grant recounts, a buyer in Botswana looking for macadamia trees, was informed about HelloChoice by a friend in the UK.
“We were able to connect a buyer in Botswana who didn’t know any macadamia nurseries to a South African nursery who didn’t know he was a buyer, and the trees were delivered to Botswana last month. This is just a practical example of how the network can work when you’re using it digitally.”
Once it’s digital, there’s nothing that prevents cross-border trade, Grant says, and they have been getting increasing enquiries (specifically into grains, dried red-speckled sugar beans and nuts) from other African countries.
View the HelloChoice Potato Playbook here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX-G9zAjGyw