BELFAST, Maine — Forget about Instacart.
Who needs GrubHub?
Rural Maine may be too sparsely populated for large, national grocery or food delivery services, but in one midcoast city, a new organization wants to fill a need made acute by the coronavirus pandemic by delivering local produce, groceries, prepared foods and more directly to customers each week.
It’s called Belfast Delivers, and the premise is as straightforward as its name suggests.
“Belfast Delivers can offer a wide range of products and, we hope, services, too,” Kate Hall, one of the founders, said this week. “Anybody that wants to can use the platform to expand their business and sell their products.”
On Wednesdays, customers can access the online market and see what’s available from vendors that include Ancestral French Soaps, Graze, Nomad Pasta Co., Olde Haven Farm, Springdale Farm and Creamery, Stubborn Ox Farm, Sweet Monkey Business, Trillium and Vinolio. They can order meat, vegetables, cheeses, soaps, scones, doughnuts, dinner for two and more.
The volunteer-run organization began delivering Friday to customers in Belfast, Belmont, Lincolnville, Morrill, Northport, Searsport, Stockton Springs, Swanville and Waldo. There’s a delivery fee of $8 in Belfast and $12 outside of the city.
Hall, who sells microgreens, juices and more through her company, Graze, has a stall at the weekly United Farmers Market of Maine in downtown Belfast. The vendors at the neighboring stall, Matt Burke and Jim Thompson of Sweet Monkey Business, an artisanal, small-batch cookie company, are friends with her. Earlier this year, when the market temporarily closed its doors and business seemed uncertain, they began to brainstorm different strategies to get their products into the hands of customers.
“People are very entrepreneurial and innovative here in Maine,” Burke said. “Everybody’s finding new ways to distribute their products.”
Hall sold some of her wares through the online farmers market that Erin French of The Lost Kitchen in Freedom launched this spring, and really liked the idea. Customers there order online and then drive to the restaurant on Saturdays to pick up their goods.
“Erin really understands Maine food, and was such a great pioneer for this concept and model,” Hall said. “She said, ‘Without you guys [farmers and producers], when this restaurant reopens, we don’t have a restaurant.’”
Hall, Burke and Thompson thought that there was enough supply and demand to support another online market, but figured they would set themselves apart by offering delivery to their customers — some of whom likely do not want to leave their homes because of the pandemic or other reasons.
“That’s what we heard from lots of people,” Hall said.
Burke said last week’s first delivery was a success.
“We connected with everybody we delivered to, and they were all at home” and seemed delighted to receive their groceries and treats, he said.
The concept is still a work in progress. The partners are looking for more vendors, especially egg suppliers and bread bakers. In the future, they want to expand to two delivery days a week. And even after the pandemic is over, they would like Belfast Delivers to remain in business.
“Our hope is that it will be a mainstay in the community, and that it will be a valuable service,” Burke said.