Mar 19, 2015
MarketMaker upgrade could help growers sell produce

Growers and other industry representatives could benefit from upgrades to a national electronic marketing tool for buying and selling locally produced foods, according to the program’s developers.

The National Food MarketMaker Program was touted from its inception in 2004 as being a virtual supply chain to help farmers sell their products at a premium price. There is no charge for accessing the system, found at www.foodmarketermaker.com.

The program is funded by the state partners, which pool their resources, along with grants and some sponsorships.

The MarketMaker Partners Network is a growing partnership of land-grant universities, departments of agriculture and food and agricultural organizations “investing in a coordinated effort to build a virtual infrastructure that brings healthier, fresher and more flavorful food to the average consumer.”

“Since premiering MarketMaker 4.0 in October 2014, we have been talking to our state partners to collect requirements and better understand the evolving needs of each MarketMaker user,” said Darlene Knipe, co-founder and director of the National MarketMaker Program. “(The partners’) feedback has led to several new improvements.”

On Feb. 5, upgrades to the state partner website searches were unveiled and used for the first time. Each state partner website search now includes a keyword search functionality that enables users to perform basic and advanced searches.

The new basic search filters allow searches across multiple business types, which include buyers, fisheries, food banks, processors and more, Knipe said.

“The new advanced search filters allow you to narrow your search within a single business type. While searching for buyers in a particular location, you can target specific buyers by selecting filters for product preferences, transportation details, certifications preferred/required, buying/sourcing region and more.”

In addition to this expanded keyword search functionality, search results appear faster and can be displayed according to the user’s viewing preferences. Knipe worked to develop the project for several years with her husband, Richard.

Riverside Research, a not-for-profit company with facilities in Champaign, Illinois, signed a global licensing agreement in November 2013 with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for the exclusive rights to MarketMaker, a web-based information and communication resource originally designed to “revolutionize the food supply chain.”

MarketMaker is seen as one of the largest databases of searchable, food industry-related information in the country, currently linking producers and consumers in 20 states plus the District of Columbia. As the exclusive licensee, Knipe said, Riverside Research has invested in additional research and development to expand MarketMaker’s capabilities to new markets and regions, both nationally and globally.

“Riverside Research is the ideal partner for MarketMaker,” Knipe said. “The company has great experience and expertise in information systems, a long-standing commitment to the greater good, and a high-integrity business culture. These qualities are critical to the future expansion of MarketMaker and realizing its great potential to fight world hunger.”

Darlene and Richard Knipe have continued to direct the National MarketMaker program as employees of Riverside Research.

“MarketMaker now has a whole new look and the ability to search out all the farmers and businesses on the site has become much easier,” Knipe said. “Some of the features implemented over the past couple of years include a trade lead notification system and a profile connecting feature that gives users the ability to link with other farms and business to build their own private communication networks and to publicly cross promote one another.

“MarketMaker also now allows farmers and businesses in all 50 states to register and create a profile,” she said. “We now have approximately 1.3 million farmers and food related business profiles in our system that can be searched and mapped by anyone who visits any of our MarketMaker state websites.”

Knipe said MarketMaker remains in partnership with land grant universities, departments of agriculture, and other “mission- driven food and agricultural organizations.”

She said the University of Illinois licensing agreement with Riverside Research is “a true public- private partnership. We can be more agile in our growth and development and still stay rooted in our founding ‘greater good’ intentions that have driven MarketMaker all these years.”

“Since the move to Riverside Research, MarketMaker has been focused on upgrading the site to make it more mobile friendly and create a better user experience in general,” Knipe said. “Last year, MarketMaker celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Technology to support information networks like MarketMaker has changed leaps and bounds since we first conceived the idea of a platform to connect producers to new markets. Our new MarketMaker sites will reflect that new technology.

“We are also starting to grow our network of state-sponsored MarketMaker sites again,” Knipe said. “Virginia will be coming online soon, expanding our network of partners that has always been the backbone of MarketMaker over the years.

“MarketMaker continues to evolve, leveraging new technologies to meet the dynamic and fluid needs of the food supply chain. I would encourage everyone to visit any of our MarketMaker sites often and subscribe to our newsletter to keep up with what’s new.”

“Addressing the food and nutritional needs of a growing global population is a significant challenge,” said Richard Annas, president, Riverside Research. “We apply our corporate strengths in information sciences with MarketMaker to address this challenge and make meaningful contributions to the solution. That’s our purpose – technical excellence and trusted solutions.”

“Connecting with other states and cooperating to create a shared effort among states to build this system was the key to its success,” Knipe said “We have an outstanding partnership of organizations. We are creating a lot more functionality to help producers improve market outreach.”

Farms self-register, and every state that’s part of the system has its own portal, all sharing the same data.

The system features a buy-sell forum that “helps draw attention to an individual business,” Knipe said. “It’s a good aggregation tool, and with the push for locally grown it’s sort of evolving in the way food is being distributed.”

A trade-alert feature is intended to allow users to pursue a certain type of market opportunity in their profile, and when that inquiry comes through the system it is directed to users seeking those connections.

Knipe said MarketMaker is being recognized as an economic development tool by states involved in the project.

“There’s a lot of opportunity around building a more agile food supply chain.”

As soon as farmers, food processors, wineries, grocery stores, distributors and others create a presence on MarketMaker, they can generate a lot of activity simply by having a profile that will greatly increase market impact. She said anyone in the industry could get into the system and set up an account by registering and establishing a profile. It’s a matter of “clicking through some boxes,” and the goal is to make it so registration doesn’t take more than 15 minutes. Photos, graphics and other information can be added to the profiles.

Gary Pullano


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