Creating a New Food System

By Catherine Gonzalez W’16

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Wharton Social Impact Initiative blog.

Wharton junior Catherine Gonzalez spent her summer working on growth and sales strategies for a local food hub with a mind for community impact. Wharton Social Impact Initiative provided her with funding and support through the Bendheim Fellows Social Impact Fund.

Photo credit: Aaron Guo W'17
Photo credit: Aaron Guo W’17

Social impact and profit need not be mutually exclusive.

In co-founding Common Market, Haile Johnston (W’95) and Tatiana Garcia-Granados(C’97/WG’03), proved just that by creating an alternative to the traditional food system in Philadelphia known as a food hub.

Food hubs focus on both supporting small local farmers as well as giving consumers access to fresh food. This refreshing take on the traditional business model incorporates social impact as a core goal, enabling a system wherein profit and social impact are inseparable.

Common Market aggregates fresh products from sustainable farmers in the Delaware Valley and then wholesales the food at a fair cost to workplaces, faith institutions, hospitals, schools, universities and community organizations.

The result is a local food system which supports both small farms, which would otherwise be unable to achieve economies of scale, as well as consumers, who now have access healthy local produce.

Staying true to a mission that addresses the needs of both ends of the supply chain is no trivial task.

Common Market maintains this balance by adopting standards that each producer must meet to be eligible as a vendor — addressing food safety, implementing sustainable farming practices, and paying fair wages are a few examples. There are a variety of partnerships on the consumer end, some of which focus on promoting seasonal local diets — Sweetgreen and White Dog Cafe come to mind — and other institutions such as hospitals that serve vulnerable populations. Employing a lean staff of fewer than twenty people, Common Market consistently finds ways to optimize business operations with the understanding that increased community impact will follow.

Photo credit: Aaron Guo W'17
Photo credit: Aaron Guo W’17

Through a grant from the Bendheim Fellows Social Impact Fund, I was able to join their business operations team for the summer and assist them in fulfilling this mission.

I worked with a team to develop a dashboard that would give insight into the aspects of business in growth phases as well as those requiring extra attention. My project in particular was to develop a customer segmentation tool that would allow Common Market to easily track long-term sales targets.

In developing this tool, several questions arose.

Would separating our customers by impact as opposed to business sectors actually provide insight into how best to structure our sales strategy? Would impact be better described by categorical or numerical indicators? Given the limited human capital available, would this tool be feasible to both update and use? What actionable deliverables could be taken away from the data this tool would provide?

After much debate, we developed categorical buckets describing various types of impact each of our customers had on their consumers. Staff could easily view and filter sales data by these newly created segments to compare and track growth.

The first iteration of this segmentation tool appears on the dashboard as a summary of a particular month’s sales sorted by these segments, allowing our team to understand both the profit of growth sectors as well as the demand-side impact of those sectors. This is a reflection of the Common Market model, in which profit and impact are symbiotic.

Incidentally, while my work began as a summer internship, it has transitioned into an ongoing role this academic year. I will continue to work with the Common Market team on similar initiatives, and intend to better understand the real-world implications of this innovative business model.

Catherine-Gonzalez-150x150Bio: Catherine Gonzalez is a junior in Wharton studying Marketing and Operations Management. Her internship at Common Market was funded by the Bendheim Fellows. Beyond academics she currently serves as president of Penn International Business Volunteers (PIBV) and is an intern for Common Market. She believes that social enterprises will find success as long as they develop innovative business models that challenge the status quo.