Virtual farmers’ market targets online shoppers

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Artisan food distribution company, Carter House Foods, has teamed up with a display technology firm to launch an interactive 3D virtual farmers’ market to target the growing online home shopping market.

Using the latest games technology, the concept combines a 3D world with a traditional online retail website, which allows consumers and specialist food and drink producers to interact without stepping foot outside their front doors.

The virtual market programme lets shoppers ‘visit’ over 45 market stalls where they can view products, interact with the producer and buy the same artisan-produced food and drink they might find in a real farmers’ market; and they can shop at the virtual market 24/7.

Marcus Carter, managing director of Carter Food House, said the virtual market is revolutionary because it gives smaller specialist food and drink producers and farmers the opportunity to reach new markets, and extend the scope of their business, without the need to go through the multiple supermarkets. It also provides access to the growing online home shopping market.

The online grocery market was worth £4.4bn in 2009 and is expected to increase by 57% to £6.9bn by 2014 (source: Mintel).

According to Carter, the virtual farmers’ market is well placed to take advantage of this growth and answers some of the concerns consumers face when shopping online – 83% of consumers like to touch and feel what they buy. Shoppers can also ‘meet’ the producer via a video stream that provides a brief description of the goods for sale and tells the story of how the food and drink has been produced. If satisfied, the shopper can add products to a virtual shopping basket for home delivery in temperature-controlled boxes.

Carter said the virtual farmers’ market is designed to be used as a top-up for the regular household shop, where consumers can add products to their weekly shop that can’t be bought at any supermarket.

Carter’s brainchild has been developed in association with Digital Presence Solutions, a UK display technology firm based at Coventry University Technology Park.

Carter said: “The virtual farmers’ market gives consumers the opportunity to buy direct from the producer. Seeing the face behind the food is more important today than it has ever been. To be able to connect remotely by using the internet, with the people who make what we eat, enables consumers to get a sense of trust before buying.”