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Food Retail Innovation [Agriculture
Posted on February 4, 2019 @ 08:16:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Most people in North America have never heard of a food retail innovation called REKO Circles (REKO is a Swedish abbreviation for "Fair Consumption"). Judging by its uptake in Finland and Sweden, expect to hear more about REKO Circles coming to a place near you.

Basically, members of a REKO Circle join a closed Facebook group (or similar social networking platform). Producers post what they have to sell and consumers add comments saying how much they would like to buy. A time and place is set where producers and consumers will congregate and exchange goods. Usually it is a parking lot. There are no booths or advertising, goods are simply provided to the customers in the amounts requested from the back of their vehicle to the consumers. Everybody leaves on their merry way within an hour of the first arrival.

There are many advantages for local producers and consumers in this arrangement. Local producers who are not big enough to sell to the local grocery store now have a market. There are no monetary costs for producers or consumers to network online to buy and sell agricultural products. The producer gets more of the money from selling their product than they would if they sold to the grocery store, even at prices competitive with the grocery store. The consumer knows where their food comes from. Consumers can get a significant portion of their weekly food needs met in one place. Producers only bring what is necessary and don't have to transport unsold items back to their home.

REKO Circles may be acknowledged and promoted by municipalities and governments, but REKO Circles to date have generally been organized in a bottom up fashion though people organizing on social media for the purposes of setting up a local food network.

Below are a few resources that I would recommend to learn more about REKO.

REKO Circles were initiated in Finland in 2013 by a farmer Thomas Snellman. Since then they have grown to become a significant component of the food retail network in Finland (5% or more). Thomas Snellman gave a TED talk that is worth watching to get the concept from the originator.

I originally learned about REKO on Richard Perkin's Youtube Channel where he has been an enthusiastic supporter of this particular method of selling his goods. Richard gives you a good nut-and-bolts view on how REKO works on Richard and Yohanna's farm:

Even though I was familiar with the REKO concept from Richard's channel, I didn't fully appreciate its history or its disruptive potential until I read the paper Farm Fresh in the City: Urban Grassroots Food Distribution Networks in Finland (S.E. Hagolani-Albov and S.J. Halvorson) which can be found in the Global Urban Agriculture (2017) collection of papers edited by A. WinklerPrins. This chapter is one of the few academic treatments of the REKO concept and does an excellent job in explaining what is different about REKO and why it works in the Finnish context.

Will REKO Circles work in the North American context? That awaits to be seen. You don't need startup capital or the blessing of government to launch a REKO Circle near you.

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