Home-grown innovation

Posted

Jane Nicholes

Amy Royster apologizes for her inadvertent puns about Palm Beach Sproutz. The director of client solutions for Ideabar/The Palm Beach Post gets excited about the possibilities for a new mobile web-app for readers interested in healthy eating, locally grown foods, restaurants that focus on organic or local food sources, and who might be running a special this week.

For example, she describes development of the app as "a grass-roots, home-grown effort." And catches herself with, "It's really hard to stay away from these puns."

But Palm Beach Sproutz did grow from a collection of ideas at a staff innovation retreat into a countywide listing of some 150 local farms, markets, co-ops, restaurants, grocery produce sections and other vendors of healthy eating and health foods. (www.palmbeachsproutz.com).

The retreat, held in January 2013, was intended to generate ideas from all departments and to create a culture in which innovation was welcomed, Royster said. Several ideas involved healthy living, nutrition and eating well, she said. The challenge was "how to combine good journalism and good information on this topic with digital technology that would make people's lives easier."

A team based in Ideabar, the marketing arm of the Post, researched the project in the summer of 2013 and began collecting content that fall. Team members included Royster, Gwen Berry, Nathan Hall, Jeff Sterling, Ngan Nguyen, Nicole Moschella, Jenna Lehtola and Jorge Gomez.

Research groups of people interested in organic foods confirmed the market for Sproutz, Royster said. "We really heard that there was not an easy digital place, one place to go and find information about local foods."

Palm Beach Sproutz launched Jan. 22 with 120 listings divided by type of vendor and location.

Basic listings are free, but the locations are also checked out to ensure that they meet the objectives of Sproutz. For example, one vegetarian dish on a restaurant menu otherwise devoted to cheeseburgers and pizza won't do.

"We do not charge for a listing," Royster said. "We thought about several different business models. What we decided is that we wanted there to be a base that was pure journalism, information that was helpful to people."

At the same time, the Post launched a local weekly column in the food and dining section. "So there is expanded content in print – recipes, chef profiles, profiles of farmers, different growers, markets," Royster said. "And then some of that makes its way onto the app."

Businesses that want to get out more information can pay to expand their listings, and many have used that option to offer specials or coupons.

But the biggest revenue producer is expected to be sponsorships. Royster said presentations have been made to a potential umbrella sponsor and a secondary sponsor. Though no deal has been set, one of the potential sponsors has asked Ideabar to expand Sproutz to other major metro areas in Florida. It's also possible that Palm Beach Sproutz will prove to be a test case for other Cox Media Group members, Royster said.

Initial results have been encouraging, she said. In the first 10 days, Palm Beach Sproutz generated 11,385 page views, 2,878 visits and 2,631 unique visitors. Promotions have included co-sponsorship of a gourmet lunch series at a local co-op farm and the appearance of "Princess Sproutz" at farmers markets.

"We made a dress out of recycled Sproutz advertisements and put a model in the dress, and made a Princess Sproutz," Royster explained. "She walked around in this ball gown made out of recycled materials and passed out information about the app and how to download it. That was really fun. It got a huge social media lift."

Royster said the whole staff is excited about and proud of Sproutz. "We were really thrilled to have an idea come up from employees that we were able to refine, research and build a business case around."

For more information, email sproutz@pbpost.com.

Jane Nicholes is a freelance writer and editor based in Daphne, Ala., and a former editorial writer for the Press-Register in Mobile. Email her at jbnicholes@att.net.

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