Social Innovation Incubator Profiles: Fork in the Road Mobile Market
We live in a nation where 1 in 7 of us rely on food stamps to avoid going hungry , where 24 million of us lack access to healthful, affordable foods because grocery stores have moved out of low-income communities . Those who live in the resulting “food deserts” are able to pay for food—in fact, they collectively represent a $13.7 billion market —but traditional food retailers are unable to meet this need at the level of profits shareholders demand. Even in Portland, a city normally associated with farmer’s markets and grocery cooperatives, food deserts are a persistent and challenging problem.
Amelia Pape, Portland State University MBA 2011, first envisioned a business solution to food deserts in a PSU MBA class on disruptive innovation. The business, Fork in the Road (FITR) Mobile Market, would offer food stamp-authorized, inexpensive, quality food items from a customized vehicle. Without the high fixed costs of traditional retail grocers, FITR could cost-effectively serve local food deserts and potentially scale to other cities through a franchise model.
Along with co-founder Colin Gallison, a fellow MBA student at the time, Amelia developed a business plan and pitch that won top awards from the New Venture Championship and Oregon Entrepreneurs Network. With advisors and partnerships in place, they now seek a vehicle that can be repurposed as the first Mobile Market.
Like all successful innovators, Amelia and Colin are looking not only to develop a new business model, but to ensure that it is appropriate for the context in which it will be delivered. Community engagement is a critical component of FITR’s approach to the challenge of food deserts, as Amelia describes:
Trying to determine where the greatest area of need is in Portland has been challenging because it requires potential customers to recognize the issue and be receptive to our service as a solution. Asking people with habituated behavior patterns to change is always difficult. No one is really used to buying groceries out of a truck on their way home from work, but we hope that the convenience and quality we provide will be an incentive for them to give us a try. We believe that with the support of community leaders in our selected neighborhoods, we will be able to build trust with our client base and set the wheels in motion for slow, systemic change.
Solving the problem of food deserts in our country will take time, but Fork in the Road is poised to introduce an important part of the solution. Food is a part of culture—a way that we share experience and show love for others—and by helping our neighbors gain access to nutritious, affordable food, we demonstrate that we care for them as well.
 Fork in the Road estimate.
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