home delivery

A Celebrity, an Internet Billionaire, and a Unicorn Walk Into the Room

via AndNowUKnow produce industry news

via AndNowUKnow produce industry news


It sounds like the opening of a bad joke. Instead, it’s a scene that’s playing out behind the scenes in the meal kit delivery business.

The celebrity
Beyoncé’s got one. So do Cindy Crawford and Gwyneth Paltrow. TV chefs Alex Guarnaschelli, Adam Richman, and a slew of lesser-known alums from shows like Top Chef, The Chew, and Chopped are lending their names and talents to meal kit services. The real stunner is cookbook author and food activist Mark Bittman, who recently stepped down from the plummiest of gigs as a lead food columnist for The New York Times to devote himself to The Purple Carrot, a plant-based meal kit company.

The billionaire
Technology-focused venture capital and private equity investment firms like Accel Partners, Lowercase Capital, and Bessemer Venture Partners have found success by buying into the startup sector of the moment. After getting in early on companies like Uber, LinkedIn, Skype, and Pinterest, they’re pulling out their checkbooks for a piece of the subscription meal business.

The unicorn
Blue Apron and Hello Fresh have already reached unicorn status, and Plated isn’t too far behind. So-called unicorns are the rare startups that, based on fundraising, are valued in the private markets at more than $1 billion. Within the subscription meal kit sector, the designation is hardly the stuff of myth.

What’s in the box (or bag, or basket, or cooler, or crate)?
Menus and pricing structures vary, but all of the meal kit delivery services bring pre-planned menus, prepped and portioned ingredients, and step-by-step instructions. A shipment could bring little screw-top jars filled with pre-measured quantities of vinegar, olive oil, harissa, and crème fraîche. Tiny bags will each contain a teaspoon or two of dried herbs and ground spices, or maybe a clove of peeled garlic or a few sprigs of fresh herbs; larger bags hold greens and grains and pan-ready meats and fish. You”ll do some chopping and sautéing, maybe stuff a squash or mix up a spice rub, but you won’t have to search for recipes, run to the supermarket, or buy an entire jar of black sesame seeds or pomegranate molasses because one recipe calls for a couple of tablespoons.

Meal kits hit the sweet spot for dinner at home on a weeknight.
The goal is a meal that’s better than heat-and-eat prepared food, healthier than takeout, more convenient than scratch cooking, and less expensive than restaurant dining. They’re competing with takeout and fast casual restaurants, the prepared foods available in supermarkets, and the booming category of home-delivered groceries and restaurant meals, which has spawned a few of its own unicorns like Instacart and Delivery Hero.

It’s a niche business with plenty of subdivisions.
You can recreate favorite restaurant dishes at home (Din, Plated, ChefDay!); improve your nutrition (Lighter); whip up a superfood smoothie a day (The Greenblender), eat like a Southerner (PeachDish ) or like you live in New England (Just Add Cooking). There are meal kits for vegans and vegetarians, carnivores, pescatarians, and omnivores. You can follow a gluten-free or Paleo diet, ban all GMOs from your kitchen, or keep kosher.

So many meal kit companies! Billion dollar valuations! Still, most of us don’t know anyone who uses them. 
So far the meal kit business is serving mostly young urbanites, but the market is plenty big: Blue Apron alone ships 3 million meals a month. Millennials already spend more on food outside the home than any other generation, and if they continue their spending patterns as they mature into higher income brackets, they’ll be dropping an additional $6 billion yearly into foodservice.

As a group, the under-40 crowd cares more than their elders about what they eat, where it comes from, and members have a healthy disdain for processed foods. They have broad, adventurous palates and were raised on a steady diet of TV cooking shows. Meal kit delivery services tap into all of that plus there’s an appealing technology component with most transactions taking place through mobile apps. For now, capital continues to flow freely to startups, and every day seems to brings a new meal kit service catering to young would-be cooks who aren’t quite ready to take off their training wheels.



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Should You Be Buying Your Groceries Online?

Clicks or Bricks: which is cheaper, easier, greener?

Who wouldn’t want to cut out all those trips to the supermarket?
Hopefully you’ve already cut way back, with a larger portion of your food coming from farmers markets and other local sources, but you just can’t get everything. There will always be a need for the cans and bottle, cleaning supplies and paper goods that large chain stores offer cheaper and with better selection. We are still left with that most detestable of all household errands—the trip to the supermarket.

It’s misery from start to finish: the parking space in the next county, the shopping cart with a cranky wheel, the checkout line that inches along, and finally the multiple trips from car to kitchen hauling all those grocery bags. What if you could eliminate that dreaded chore AND reduce your environmental impact?

A study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University’s Green Design Institute concluded that online purchases with home delivery can result in 35 percent less energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions than traditional shopping. Approximately 65 percent of total emissions generated by the traditional retail model comes from driving your own car to and from the store. Even though a huge, fuel-burning truck will be bringing the groceries to you, the incremental energy consumption and emissions created by one more shopping order and one more delivery stop added to the truck’s route is less significant than if you make the drive yourself.

There are also logistical differences in the supply chain that can lessen the environmental impact of online shopping. Traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers generally have items shipped from manufacturers to distributors to regional warehouses, where they are then redistributed to individual store locations. Online sellers can streamline the process. They usually eliminate at least one tier of regional warehousing, and some can even skip a few steps by relying on distribution partners to ship directly shipping to customer homes. This cuts back not just on the transportation of products, but also the bundled packaging and packing materials needed along the way.

Try it; you’ll like it.
Online grocery purchases are still at a miniscule 2% of overall sales, thriving in just a few urban niche markets. But those users are hooked. Among shoppers who tried out online shopping over the past year, 43% have become regular, weekly online customers and 12% are now monthly shoppers.

Here come the game-changers.
We’ve grown comfortable with online shopping, the modems are a lot faster, and gas prices are hovering around $4.00  a gallon. Walmart, already the nation’s biggest grocer, is experimenting with a new online service called Walmart To Go, while Amazon, the king of online retailers, has big plans for a national roll-out of its own service, AmazonFresh. There are plenty of alternatives for the Walmart averse— SOS eMarketing lists 50 online grocers including ethnic, regional, and specialty retailers, and we now have the nation’s first USDA-certified organic online grocer.

For the little things on your list…
We all know about the wasteful gas-guzzling miles spent on last minute trips for a few items. For that desperately needed quart of milk or bag of Milanos, we can look to an Italian crowd-sourcing experiment called Milk, Please!. The app lets a user send a shopping request to Milk, Please!, which is accessible online, via smartphones, and at supermarket kiosks. Someone who is planning a shopping trip or is already at the store can view the request and add the items to their own shopping list. They then drop the item off on their way home, and Milk, Please! handles the payment and reimbursement. Massachusetts-based Neighbor Favor is trying a similar tip-based service harnessing the abundant idle time and energy of college students.

Posted in home delivery, shopping, sustainability | 2 Comments

The Milkman Cometh

Remember the milkman?

Once a fixture of the early morning landscape, making deliveries to about a third of all households in the United States, the milkman was all but extinct as the 20th century drew to a close, with sales down to a paltry 0.4% of the retail dairy industry. It appeared that the milkman would remain a bit of quaint nostalgia for those old enough to remember, and younger generations would never know home delivery that doesn’t arrive in an Amazon box.

Home milk delivery had been dying since the 1970’s. Improvements in refrigeration and pasteurization had extended the shelf life of dairy products allowing for less frequent purchases. The burgeoning supermarket industry had begun selling milk as a loss leader to lure customers into their stores. And Americans were drinking less milk.

The return of the milkman
Recently, this old-fashioned service has been making a comeback for reasons that can be personal, practical, and political. It’s a convenience for working parents who can strike a chore off their list, and for seniors who can lighten the load they lug home from the market. It fits with consumer interest in local products and small-scale producers who likely bottle in reusable and recyclable glass bottles and adhere to natural and organic dairy practices.

This is not the milkman of yesteryear.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that it is still almost always a man slinging the bottles. But smaller customer bases and larger areas of coverage demanded tweaks to much of the business model, so in addition to traditional dairy products, high-profit items like specialty meats, bread, jams, and cut flowers are often added to the orders.

Dairies are availing themselves of plenty of 21st century technology with online ordering, route optimization software that works with the delivery truck’s GPS , twittered delivery announcements, and hand-held scanners that track barcoded products and generate the customer accounts.

Businesses range from the small mom and pops with a few hundred local customers to Oberweis Dairy, which delivers to more than 50,000 households throughout Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Dairies in Maryland , Virgina, Washington, and Boston are reporting annual sales growth of more than 30% and massive waiting lists as they expand into new delivery areas. Even New York City has Manhattan Milk, although its trucks are more likely to drop the bottles with doormen than on doorsteps

You will pay a premium for the convenience, usually a delivery charge of around $3, but the milk itself probably costs no more than the supermarket price for organic dairy products. In exchange, your milk will be the freshest you can get and you will be doing your part for the local economy and the environment. And between the nostalgia, the cream on top, and the glass bottles, you’ll swear it just tastes better.



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Stemming the Flow of Red Ink: Publishers’ wine clubs


The Wall Street Journal has one. And the New York Times. Playboy Magazine too.

We’re talking about wine clubs; the newest revenue stream for struggling publishers.
Readership is down. Advertising is going the way of the web. Online content has been resistant to monetization.

What’s a news organization to do?

Newspapers and magazines have turned to selling wine as a new way of generating revenue from readers. There’s nothing new about the business model. Classified ads were the traditional way for publishers to take advantage of the communities they created. With subscriptions dwindling and the advent of free Craigslist classifieds, a diverse group of publishers has applied the same principles to wine clubs. […]

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Grocery Shopping Jetson-Style.

     Jetsons image courtesy of Hanna-Barbera


If only life could be like the futuristic utopia of The Jetsons. A hungry Jane pushes a few buttons on the food-a-rac-a-cycle and there’s dinner for four. No chopping, no sauté pans to wash, and best of all– no grocery shopping.

Grocery shopping is the most universally detested of all household errands.

We are inconvenienced by trips to the dry cleaner, we shudder at the thought of holiday gift shopping, but nothing fills us with dread like a trip to the supermarket. […]

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A Chicken Soup Tribute to J.D. Salinger


Today’s post was was going to be about chicken soup.

I had it all planned. I was going to show you a graph from the Centers for Disease Control illustrating the way the flu season peaks in the month of February. I had collected entertaining anecdotes about Jewish penicillin and a charming photograph of someone’s grandmother ladling it up from a steaming soup kettle. I had the results from a University of Nebraska Medical Center study documenting chicken soup’s ability to reduce neutrophils cells, which trigger the inflammatory responses that make cold sufferers feel so rotten.

Then  J.D. Salinger died. […]

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Home Grown

animated logo


This post is for anyone who has ever dreamed of owning an olive grove on a sun-drenched Tuscan hillside or a vineyard in the Loire Valley.

And this post goes out to all of you who prefer not to be up with the chickens, who hate dirt under your fingernails, and get queasy from the smells of tractor diesel and manure.

Why buy the farm when you can rent?

Growers and producers with a wide range of offerings will lease you a portion of their operation— for one growing cycle you can lay claim to your own beehive, apple tree, oyster bed, or row of grape vines, and then reap the benefits of the harvest. […]

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The Return of the Milkman


Remember the milkman?

Once a fixture of the early morning landscape, making deliveries to about a third of all households in the United States, the milkman was all but extinct as the 20th century drew to a close, with sales down to a paltry 0.4% of the retail dairy industry. It appeared that the milkman would remain a bit of quaint nostalgia for those old enough to remember, and younger generations would never know home delivery that doesn’t arrive in an Amazon box. […]

Posted in home delivery, local foods | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment
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