If you want fresh fish, you drive to the docks. Fresh vegetables, the farmer’s market. But what if it came to you, hours after being plucked from the ground, hauled out of the water or coaxed out of an oven? What if you could buy all the food you eat from local, sustainable growers and ranchers and fishermen, all year round, every day, without having to traipse from place to place?
If the San Francisco startup Good Eggs continues its impressive run, that’ll soon be possible in cities all over America. Bay Area residents—as well as folks in Brooklyn, N.Y., New Orleans and Los Angeles—can now order and eat enough local food at www.goodeggs.com to avoid supermarkets altogether.
How it works: The company signs up food producers (about 300 so far) who promise to pay fair wages, use sustainable ingredients and serve their local communities, among other stipulations. (The mission statement is “Grow and sustain local food systems worldwide.”) Then, via the website, Good Eggs takes orders from customers for specific amounts of free-range turkeys or raw unfiltered honey—orders placed directly with those farmers, ranchers, bakers and fishermen. In San Francisco, Good Eggs aggregates the orders, picks up all the stuff, ferries it to a 10,000-square-foot warehouse in the Dog Patch neighborhood, repackages it into individual shipments and delivers the goods within two days of an order, either to predetermined drop-off points staged strategically throughout the city or right to some customers’ doorsteps, for $3.99. In some cases, that results in people buying and eating fish caught and carrots pulled that same morning. Order gets placed Monday, fish are caught Wednesday, and delivered that afternoon. All with the click of a button.
Good Eggs, which raised $8.5 million in capital in September 2013 is the idea of a couple of San Francisco tech guys, Rob Spiro and Alon Salant. Spiro’s inspiration was a post-college gig at a friend’s family farm in New York’s Hudson Valley. It wasn’t the most lucrative job, but it was inspiring, seeing farmers and ranchers “putting their heart and their values into their work.” He admired their integrity—organic practices, human treatment of animals—and their ingenuity, “inventing all these business models from scratch” by bypassing the normal industrial supply chain necessary to make it into big supermarkets. Spiro’s next move was to head out West and co-found the social search startup Aardvark in 2007, but he never forgot the farm.
Aardvark was sold to Google for $50 million in 2010 and Spiro went to work for the new owner, eventually as the product lead for what we now call Google Plus. After 18 months, he and Salant decided it was time to apply their tech talents to local food. Spiro doesn’t pretend this was some kind of brand-new concept.
“The local food phenomenon was already happening in a big way in this country,” he says. “Farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture, people starting small farms, bakeries. It’s already having a big impact: on the environment, the health of customers who buy that food, on culture, making people less consumerist and more connected to the humans behind the supply chains they buy from.”
Good Eggs began with a simple question, then: How can we use technology to help? After a year of research, the company’s founders recognized the chief problem with the scalability of the local food movement: Producers were having a hell of a time making a living. They worked farmers’ markets, on nights and weekends, but the margins were too small for many to quit their day jobs and make a full-time go of things. If they kept the company too small, they couldn’t crack big markets like grocery store chains. When they “made it big,” so to speak, they turned over huge percentages of the proceeds to distributors and retailers.
At Good Eggs, “Your order goes directly to the producer,” Spiro says. “Then they bring it to us for the last mile of delivery. We’re only holding it for a few hours.”
Good Eggs bridges the gap between the farmers’ markets and supermarkets, taking a modest 25 percent of earnings in exchange for providing both the network and the distribution channels that connect customers to producers. Most orders are tailor-made, so there’s little concern about leftovers and waste. Good Eggs doesn’t buy food wholesale, store it, mark it up and try to resell it like supermarkets or even FreshDirect, which innovated online grocery shopping. The company is simply a conduit, making it easier (and in some cases, cheaper) for consumers to access fresh, locally sourced and sustainable food.
“There are a lot of folks out there who buy into the local food philosophy,” Spiro says. “They’ve read Michael Pollan, they know some farmers, they like the farmers’ market, they’ve seen ‘Food Inc.’ They want to be shopping from local, sustainable producers, but they have busy lives. They want something convenient.”
And Spiro wants to spread the wealth. Since March, the company has grown from 20 employees to 90. Good Eggs chose Brooklyn, L.A. and New Orleans as its next target cities because they each represent a different kind of challenge: L.A. has major traffic, Brooklyn a dense population and New Orleans an impoverished one. The philosophy: Avoid being typecast as some kind of “luxury brand” that can only work in a certain kind of city, Spiro says.
That’ll be a tough sell in some markets and to lower-income residents, with Good Eggs’ prices as high as they are now. The cheapest a dozen eggs sells for in San Francisco at the moment is $6.50. Organic whole milk is $7.50 a gallon. Nonetheless, Spiro sees plenty of opportunity for nationwide growth, via largely unmet demand and the expanding locavore movement. The local foods movement now does about $1 billion in annual sales, he says, which represents a mere percentage point of the U.S. market. He’s confident that number will grow to 10 percent in the coming years, and by that time Good Eggs can be in 50 cities across America.
“We’re building this to make it something that can work in hundreds of cities,” Spiro says. “The goal is to build a system that can serve local food systems all over the world.”