A 2019 pivot has allowed Moncton-based social enterprise The Farmers’ Truck to become cash-flow positive and expand outside of Canada.

CEO Fredéric Laforge and co-founder Mathieu Reyjal originally conceived of the company as a mobile produce store, which they planned to franchise. Now, they sell specially customized trucks to non-profits. The charities then use the trucks to distribute healthy groceries to food-insecure households and alleviate food deserts -- areas where healthy food is not readily available.

“For us, our mission is fresh, accessible food in our community,” said Laforge in an interview. “The truck is only a tool.”

Laforge and Reyjal founded The Farmers’ Truck in 2015 with a $25,000 loan from the Community Business Development Corporation and launched an online store in 2017 to complement the eponymous truck.

Funding, however, proved problematic. As a social enterprise, Laforge and Reyjal could not offer venture capitalists the same returns that were available from classically profit-driven startups.

“As a social enterprise, it’s very difficult,” said Laforge in an interview. “You’re between a rock and a hard place. VCs aren’t necessarily interested because you don’t have that 10x growth.”

The geographic limitations of the business were also an obstacle. Even with franchising, each produce truck’s individual reach remained, as Laforge described it, “hyperlocal.”

The online store showed more potential for scalability. The Farmers’ Truck was short on money, though, and lacked the runway needed to execute its plans.

By 2018, according to Laforge, “Basically we were trying to figure out how to shut down the business because we weren’t able to secure funding.”

But the dissolution process revealed a new path forward. A Pennsylvania food bank purchased one of the company’s two trucks and told Laforge that the design was better suited to their needs than anything they had found in the United States.

“That piqued my curiosity,” said Laforge. “I figured, Maybe we do still have something here.”

The transaction inspired the Farmers’ Truck team to explore commercializing their truck design. In March of 2019, they were invited to present at the University of Buffalo as part of the first annual Mobile Market Summit -- an industry gathering for the operators of retail trucks -- and by August, they had made their first sale.

As of now, they have received a total of eight orders, with an eye towards delivering the first by June or July.

Laforge added that COVID-19 has increased interest in The Farmers’ Truck by highlighting many people's precarious access to food.

“It’s horrible because it is a tragedy with the pandemic, but really what it did was it bubbled up a lot of social problems and it put the light on these food insecure households,” he said.

The trucks are built on Ford Transit cargo van chassis by Dynamic Truck Bodies in Edmundston, New Brunswick, using a design by Laforge’s team.

Unlike the company’s previous business model, selling the trucks has the virtue of not requiring outside financing.

“We’re in a very special position where we don’t need funding because we get the deposits for each truck,” said Laforge. “So, we’re cash flow positive in our model.”

Because the truck buyers are non-profits, the sales cycle often involves grant applications and can be drawn out. To help, The Farmers’ Truck has compiled a list of relevant grants on its website and offers to help charities prepare their applications.

Laforge said his four-person team has relied on organic growth so far, but expects to hire a marketing specialist for a July sales blitz.

He does not anticipate seeking outside investment, except in the case of a highly strategic partnership, such as a grocery store chain.

He said he hopes that a local non-profit will resume The Farmers’ Truck’s original mission of helping vulnerable people in New Brunswick access fresh vegetables, since the province suffers from some of the highest rates of food insecurity in Canada.