Mercaris Gains Ground with Organic Goods (Part 2)
Black Enterprise Magazine July/August 2018 Issue

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Organic products are now available in nearly 20,000 natural food stores and nearly 3 out of 4 conventional grocery stores, according to the USDA. So how can food manufacturers go about finding the ingredients they need at the price they can afford? Well, before Kellee James launched Mercaris–an electronic platform for trading organic goods–it required a lot of leg work, word of mouth and cold calling. Processors had to search through a multitude of directories and databases of certified food associations, an effort which may or may not result in the best prices possible.

[RELATED: Mercaris Gains Ground with Organic Goods (Part 1)]

“People have built successful organic businesses without Mercaris,” says James, 39, a Crain’s Chicago Business Magazine ‘40 Under 40rising leader. “Our job is to show them how much more efficient and profitable they can be by tapping into our services.”

In Part 2 of BlackEnterprise.com‘s interview with James, we learn more about the organic food industry, her mentors, and how she brought this exceptional product to the market.

BlackEnterprise.com: Why is Mercaris important? What need does it fill that wasn’t filled before?

James: The growth of the organic and the non-GMO food sector is a result of consumer demand for more sustainably grown food and information about that food.  As organizations, from farms to food companies, adjust to meet that demand; we noted a lack of information, transparency and support along the supply chain.  We’re helping to address that need.  Overall, Mercaris helps to increase the efficiency of that supply chain, which should ultimately benefit everyone ‘from farm to fork’.

Explain how the technology behind Mercaris works.

Customers access either their trading account or market reports via a password protected portal on our website.  We are a technology-enabled business, so all of our technology is designed to support price discovery and to make data accessible to our customer base.

Who will benefit the most from Mercaris and how?

Although ultimately consumers will benefit from having a wider variety of food choices, our own customers are generally closer to the base of the supply chain; growers/producers, mills, food processors, and food companies, in addition to organizations that support growers like agricultural banks, coops, or associations.

What challenges have you faced in growing your product and bringing it to the market?

Overall, the challenge is to be able to do many things well, at the same time. That meant building a great product, acquiring customers, and raising venture capital nearly simultaneously. Any one of those things is a business challenge, but conducting all three with a very small team meant some long hours and epic multi-tasking. We still challenge ourselves every day to get better product-market fit, and to keep learning from our customers.

How will you make money from the platform?

On the market data side, we charge a subscription fee that varies based on the amount and type of information the customer needs to access. We charge a per bushel transaction fee based on the amount traded on our platform.

(Continued on next page)

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, SocialWayne.com chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining BlackEnterprise.com as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and BlackEnterprise.com helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.


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