Tech startups create virtual farmers markets

AP Photo/Eric RisbergIn this Dec. 18

Sara Pasquinelli doesn't shop at the grocery store much anymore. The busy mother of two young boys buys nearly all her food from a new online service that delivers to her front door — but it doesn't bring just any food.

The emerging tech startup specializes in dropping off items that Pasquinelli probably would only be able to find at her local farmers market.

Minutes after her weekly GoodEggs.com order arrived at her San Francisco home, Pasquinelli unpacked bags and boxes of finger limes, organic whole milk, kiwis, beef short ribs, Dungeness crab and pastured eggs.

“I don't even remember the last time I went to the store for anything other than bananas and string cheese,” said Pasquinelli, an attorney who started using the service about a year ago.

The San Francisco-based Good Eggs is among a new crop of startups using technology to bolster the market for locally produced foods that backers say are better for consumer health, farmworkers, livestock and the environment. These online marketplaces are beginning to change the way people buy groceries and create new markets for small farmers and food makers.

“It's a new way of connecting producers with consumers,” said Claire Kremen, a conservation biology professor at UC Berkeley. “The more alternatives people have access to for buying food outside the industrial agricultural regime, the better it can be.”

The Good Eggs prices are similar to what shoppers pay at a farmers market, and customers can pick up their orders at designated locations or have them delivered — usually two days after they're placed.

“There's this wave of entrepreneurship and creativity happening in the food world, and Good Eggs is all about bringing that high-quality production right to your door,” said CEO Rob Spiro, who co-founded the startup after he sold his last company, a social search service called Aardvark, to Google Inc. for $50 million in 2010.

The service started in the Bay Area last year and recently launched in New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans. There are plans to expand into more markets next year.

The founders, Silicon Valley engineers, say they want to grow the market for local food that's led to the proliferation of farmers markets and community-supported agriculture programs that deliver boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The company is entering an increasingly competitive market for online grocery delivery. Major retailers such as Wal-Mart and Safeway deliver groceries and Amazon launched its AmazonFresh service in San Francisco this month.

Another San Francisco startup called Instacart allows customers to order groceries from local supermarkets and delivers in as little as an hour.

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