Moncton social venture The Farmers’ Truck nearly doubled its sales last year as pandemic-related economic woes increased food insecurity in some parts of the United States.
CEO Fredéric Laforge said in an interview that “food deserts,” which are regions where nutritious food is not readily available for purchase, have been exacerbated by inflation on the already small basket of goods available in those regions, as well as the typically lower income levels of residents. Many local charities have responded by ramping up their operations.
“During the pandemic, there's been a lot of challenges reaching out to those communities who are further out of the (urban) centres or in low income neighbourhoods that have been gentrified,” said Laforge, who described food trucks as a workable and comparatively capital efficient solution.
“There’s a lot of racial issues in the U.S. when it comes to neighbourhoods being developed, and some being more affluent with grocery stores, and some being very low income and basically having just 7-Elevens and McDonald’s.”
From its beginnings as a lone food truck, The Farmers’ Truck has grown into a social venture that sells specially designed vehicles to non-profits. The charities use the trucks to distribute healthy groceries to food insecure households and residents of food deserts.
Increasingly, Laforge said, charities are turning to food trucks as a key tool, with the existing fleet of 24 or 25 Farmers’ Trucks offering proof of concept and easing the sales process. The result has been that sales have increased dramatically in both 2020 and 2021.
Despite being based in Canada, all of The Farmers’ Truck’s clients are in the United States. A priority for the coming year, Laforge said, is to gain a foothold in the Canadian market, including his company’s home province of New Brunswick.
“When we were trying to raise funds or get some help from the government, (the answer was) nope,” he said, referring to the difficulty his team has faced securing government funding because, despite The Farmers’ Truck’s socially conscious mission, it is technically a for-profit company and ineligible for many forms of financial backing.
“New Brunswick has done a really, really poor job at supporting their farmers, farmers’ markets, growers, makers during the pandemic.”
The Farmers’ Truck often works with charities to help them write grant applications to purchase its vehicles, which it produces by hiring third-party workshops to perform conversions on mass-market truck chassis.
But supply chain disruptions have been hitting the automotive sector particularly hard. Some manufacturers, like Ford, have even paused manufacturing on some vehicles because they cannot access computer chips and other critical components. Larforge said the production side of his business has therefore proved challenging. He and his team have had to switch suppliers and conversion shops more than once.
The Farmers’ Truck so-far has five employees, as well as a sizeable handful of contractors. Laforge said he often hires staff on a contract basis instead of part-time because many workers now prefer the comparatively higher earnings and more flexible work schedules those arrangements typically offer.
He is also looking to expand his permanent team, with three job openings, including one for a finance and operations manager, listed here, and one for a program development and outreach coordinator, listed here.