business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

My family was lamenting that we have not yet shopped at our local Saturday Farmers Market this year when an intriguing post showed up on my Facebook news feed from Fresh Nation Metro North. It promised to deliver fresh produce from the same purveyors directly to my door.

It sounded to good to be true, or else prohibitively expensive. It turns out I was wrong on both counts.

Fresh Nation is a new player in the burgeoning “farm-to-table” movement that finds Americans demanding more locally-sourced fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses and other artisanal products. The company ran a pilot program in Connecticut last summer, and six weeks ago launched the business in Los Angeles and expanded in Fairfield County, CT and Westchester County, NY.

Unlike competitors that ship pre-selected and packed boxes of local produce from farms to subscribers, Fresh Nation is essentially a crowd-sourced food delivery service connecting the Farmers Market to the consumer.

“We can deliver the Farmers Market to your home, five days a week,” Fresh Nation founder Tony Lee told me. “Our goals is to strengthen the market, by reaching customers who want the freshest local produce but are too busy with work, home, or kids’ soccer to get to the Farmers Market.”

Here’s how it works: customers go on line to place an order, Fresh Nation submits the specifics to the participating farmers, and on market day a Fresh Nation personal shopper puts together each order and delivers it in his or her own car (think Uber meets grocery delivery). The consumer pays market price as well as a $5 delivery fee on orders under $75, and Fresh Nation gets a discount on the wholesale price and pays the personal shoppers an undisclosed commission.

Lee, a self-describer serial entrepreneur, spent 20 years in technology and e-commerce businesses when he and his wife Melanie decided to open a Farmer’s Market in Danbury, CT two years ago. The experience prompted them to “overlay the technology” and found Fresh Nation.

Looking to expand, Lee has identified 1,000 potential delivery areas with appropriate proximity to a local farmers market across the nation. “We have no infrastructure – no warehouse, trucks or inventory,” he said. In certain markets, Fresh Nation can deliver five days a week, in others the availability is more limited.

The other challenge is tailoring the on-line offerings to the available produce, especially time-sensitive fresh items such as strawberries (early season) or corn (later in Connecticut.)

Lee does not expect Farmers Market devotees to give up that shopping and community experience. “All of our customers normally do not shop at Farmers Markets,” he said.

Personally, I would opt for Fresh Nation any week when I could not get to my local market, which is only open on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. I also would rather order specific items than sign on for an assortment of delivered produce, particularly because there are very few tomato eaters in my household. So it works for me.

Fresh Nation and the other farm-to-table delivery services are clearly meeting consumer demand, which suggests to retailers that there is an opportunity here, even though many in the food business believe that "fresh" and "online" don't necessarily go together. Fresh Nation is looking to prove that the combination of on-line ordering, the freshest available produce and home delivery can be a game changer.

Traditional retailers would be well advised to figure out how to play the game as well.

Comments? As always, send them to me at .
KC's View: