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Jack Crotty of NeighbourFood and The Rocket Man.
Jack Crotty of NeighbourFood and The Rocket Man.
SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

Rocket Man reaches for new heights with NeighbourFood

How did The Rocket Man start?

It started in 2012 as a food stall at farmers markets.

The concept was food that could be served fast and was affordable, so we went for salads.

I did that for two years, but it didn't really take off until we opened the shop on Princes Street in July 2014.

We're very proud of it and we've got very loyal customers.

How did you get involved in this industry?

When I was young, my mother would have cooked a lot. It was all around the house growing up. Food was a big part of our lives. It was all about sourcing sustainable and local produce.

When I was in college, I took a job in a restaurant, and by the time my degree was coming to an end I was more interested in the restaurant, so I went to Ballymaloe for three months.

I worked for Jaques, Liberty Grill, and Cafe Gusto in Cork, and I worked a little abroad also, before starting The Rocket Man.

How have things changed in the city since you opened?

We've watched a lot of places come and go as we went through the recession.

When we started, what we did was unique, but now it's widely available, but we have very loyal customers.

We're very proud that we have kept going.

We've seen more people working the city centre too, so we do all of our trade between 1 and 2pm now. Before, it would have been more in the morning and the evening.

Tell us about Neighbourfood.

It's a community of producers who all sell from a single online platform.

The customer can go and have a single shopping experience with all the producers and go to the collection point once a week to collect it all in one place.

It was based on a couple of concepts I had seen in Europe, and what's was really enticing is that the producer was given a fair price for their product.

We give them double what a retailer would - 80% of the sale going back to the producer. 15-30% is what a typical retailer would give.

Producers have to find new outlets to grow, so you have to consider going into a multinational retailer. But that jump does not mean maintaining quality.

The producer also loses a loss of control.

The can all of a sudden be moved to a different shelf and lose sales.

They are no longer made to wait for pay either. With a big retailer, you can be waiting 60 days for payment, so cashflow in a bad period can stifle them.

We aim to pay within 24 hours of the sale.

With Neighbourfood, they control everything.

What are you offering through Neighbourfood?

We have everything - bread, eggs, dairy, meat, and loads of prepared food. We even have kindling and logs available. The spirit of it is to sell anything that is produced in our locality and available in your area.

So we look forward to getting even more, like eco cleaning products once they're made locally.

How has Neighbourfood gone down with people?

It's been hugely positive, from the customers and the producers.

They are really surprised by the functionality of the site - it's very easy to use.

Our main aim now is to expand the customer base. We've got the producers, now we have to find the customers.

The template is also being used in the UK.

We were contacted by someone there who was interested in our software and it proved to be better than what they were using, and now we have 12 sites using it.

In Cork, we have two collections points. Tuesday from 5-7pm at 13 Barrack Street and Wednesday from 5-7pm in On The Pigs Back in Douglas.

What sets it apart from a typical retailer?

To succeed, it has to be more convenient than a supermarket.

When supermarkets started, there were very convenient.

But you still have to go and find parking and walk around the store. We all work, so time is our most valuable commodity.

With this, you can do your shop online and picking it up can only take a few minutes.

People also care about local food, and there is very little packaging involved.

Everything comes lose, other than where packaging is necessary, like raw meat.

Milk is in glass bottles.

It's one of the biggest things we've heard back from satisfied customers - their recycling bins are empty.

Tell us about Local Enterprise Week.

I've had support from the Local Enterprise Office (LEO) in the past with The Rocket Man. With Neighbourfood, this is all new, so we're getting support from the LEO again.

I was really young and very green when I started, so it's nice to know there is somewhere you can go where you can be put in front of someone from your own industry who will fire good questions and reinforcements at you.

Local Enterprise Week is from the 4th to the 8th of March and there's loads of events. You can pick up a brochure in the office or visit localenterprise.ie/corkcity.

I'll have an event myself on Wednesday, March 6th about food innovation at Neighbourfood on 13 Barrack Street.