To Chris Baggott, the idea of driving to a grocery store is laughable. Compared to shopping online, where consumers can select exactly what they want and have it delivered straight to their door the next day, it does sound archaic.

But that’s the way it’s done, right?

Not in Baggott’s mind, because he doesn’t do anything the way it’s always been done. He was the visionary behind ExactTarget's market-leading on-demand email marketing software solutions and led the growth of the company to more than 5,000 customers in less than five years. He was the co-founder of Compendium Software, a leader in content-marketing software that provides tools to help organizations create, manage, and search-optimize their online content. The company was acquired by Oracle in 2013.

Now he seeks to revolutionize the food business with a consumer-focused philosophy, albeit specialized on a small scale at this point. He paid close attention to the emerging craft movement in other industries and was convinced the same kind of evolution needed to occur in farming.

Baggott is the founder/CEO of Tyner Pond Farm in Hancock County, Ind., a business focused on growing, processing and marketing sustainably raised, antibiotic-free beef, pork, turkey, lamb and chicken.

He also is the co-founder/CEO of ClusterTruck, a startup company built on food trucks with full kitchens that deliver cooked food to your door

“I became passionate about the whole food system and I’m definitely concerned about feeding the world,” Baggott told attendees of a conference on innovation and agriculture. “I think the discussion about ‘big ag’ is wrong; there’s an unbelievable opportunity.”

Rethink the Paradigm

Baggott asks people to imagine a world with no grocery stores.

“Pretty much every ag system in the United States is developed and consolidated into the support of a physical entity called a grocery store. People aren’t going to go to the grocery store 20 years from now – your grandchildren are going to sit on your lap and laugh at you. It’s like your parents telling you they walked 12 miles to school. You did what? You got in a car, you drove 6 miles, you parked in a two-acre parking lot, you got a cart, you walked up and down aisles, you weren’t sure what was going to be there, you had very limited choice and you had to check out in a line – it all sounds so stupid.”

Baggott said the Chinese don’t go to grocery stores – they go to open air markets and their children buy what they want online.

“They don’t trust grocery stores and they can’t imagine being inconvenienced by the grocery store. So you’re thinking, what does it look like when there are no grocery stores? Now all of a sudden you have more choice and farmers have better access to consumers because there’s not this gatekeeper called the grocery store. Imagining things like that really helps you rethink the whole picture.”

New Business Model
Baggott looks at agriculture from a different perspective.

“We eat $17.8 billion dollars of food a year in Indiana and we import almost 98% of it. We’re this ag state that makes no food. We have these low-margin commodities and we’re working incrementally on improving yields or making inputs cheaper, but the person getting squeezed is the farmer. Farmers can buy from a very limited supply of inputs and have a limited supply of people they can sell to. Four grain companies control 97% of all the grain in the world, from the smallest rice kernel in Vietnam to all the corn in Indiana, so there’s no real choice. It’s not a free market, and we have a great opportunity to disrupt that,” he said.

“In our business, it’s about accessibility,” Baggott said. “[We look at] how we get rid of the middlemen and break down the barriers that prevent a farmer from selling a product to a customer, and there are a lot of them.

Baggott looks for companies that have lost relevancy, referred to as “buggy-whip companies,” because when people started buying cars, the demand for buggy whips disappeared.

“We always have to look for the buggy-whip companies that don’t think they’re [associated with] transportation and set the bait there. Coming from outside of ag gives us a great perspective on the problems we’re trying to solve, which are better access for farmers, better economic choice for farmers and ultimately more variety for consumers.”

More Choices
Baggott sees the potential for a new way to think about food availability and the relationship between farmers and consumers, but feels agribusiness doesn’t facilitate the process.

“The agricultural companies are trying to create this schism between farmers and consumers and trying to make the consumer the bad guy. But the reality is that people want quality and they want choice – they always have,” Baggott said.

“We all drive different cars but for some reason all pork chops have to look the same? If you talk about a different pork chop and how it might be better quality well then, ooh, you must be ‘anti-farmer.’”

Baggott isn’t anti-farmer because he is a farmer, of sorts, but he sees his role and the opportunities associated with it in a very different light.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with Chris Baggott’s new perspective on agriculture?