By A. Rojas
October 2000 - B2B sites, virtual marketplaces, and global portals are several of the words abuzz in the electronic commerce field today. The trend toward business-to-business commerce cuts across a wide range of business categories, from equipment auctioning to computer equipment and even food. The dot-coms – offering paperless trading, logistics services, and 24-hour access to information – have taken the place of trading pits and auction houses. Foodtrader.com, the brainchild of CEO Frank Tomasino, has emerged as one of the most avant-garde and successful sites targeting the estimated $2.3 trillion global food products sector.
A native of Guatemala, Mr. Tomasino began his career as a trader in precious metals and foreign currencies. But a desire to change his profession, coupled with a trip to Central America in 1989, laid the foundation for what would become Foodtrader.com. “On this trip I met growers who needed help marketing their spices and finding interested buyers,” he remembers. “I developed relationships and kept in touch with them. Then in 1991, I started a company called Generic Brands International, and began importing ingredients. Over time I realized that 80 percent of my time was devoted to looking for product and in contacting my sources in India, Turkey, and Guatemala. My idea was to create a Web site where suppliers would register with me and advise me of their inventories, and then I could concentrate on selling. It would be a site for my own trading needs.”
After proving that the concept worked for himself, Mr. Tomasino extended it to other wholesalers, buyers, and sellers. “From that original concept, we expanded it to include market information about crops, prices, logistics, and so on – everything that I did on a manual basis. It’s time-consuming to identify commodities and maintain up-to-date information. The niche we saw was to get all of this on one screen, not just from one country but from many countries that produce a particular product. Gradually we realized that’s what our customers wanted.”
Mr. Tomasino’s site at www.FoodTrader.com offers commodity reports for different products, historicals over the last five years, country profiles of total imports and exports, industry news, and even live chats with experts.
“Foodtrader.com is changing long-established traditions in the food industry to such an extent that companies everywhere will gain a competitive advantage by using our system,” says Tor Boswick, vice-chairman of the Miami-based company. “This Web site allows growers in the most remote corners of the world to find new buyers and do business as never before. The sheer size of the site, combined with our advanced technology, global reach, personalized service, and team of in-house commodity experts, ensures buyers and sellers unprecedented choice, efficiency, and confidentiality.”
Ejnar Knudsen, CEO of vTraction.com, the Internet branch of Netherlands-based The Rabobank Group, made the initial $2 million investment in the agricultural site.
“Foodtrader.com’s groundbreaking role in the world of food and agriculture e-commerce made it an obvious choice,” he explains. “The vTraction.com e-cooperative cultivates an e-business environment in which its portfolio of companies can share expertise and resources, enhanced by Rabobank’s know-how to grow. And Foodtrader.com is a powerful addition to our family of agribusinesses.”
At press time, FoodTrader.com was closing its second round of venture capital financing, estimated at $40 million. Investors include New York investment bank Allen & Co. and New River Capital Partners, a Fort Lauderdale private equity fund. With that money secured, Foodtrader.com’s management team is considering taking the three-year-old company public.
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