Raising $43 million from prominent venture capitalists (Lightspeed Venture Partners, VMG) and celebrity investors (Gwyneth Paltrow, Serena Williams) is no small accomplishment.
Yet, the real story with Daily Harvest — an online retailer of frozen meals which contain nearly 100% organic ingredients — is how shrewdly it is using this investment capital and its deep commitment to organic farmers.
Last week in NYC’s Soho neighborhood, the company unveiled its first-ever physical manifestation of the brand, and with 4,500 people pouring into the pop-up over a 5-day period, it exceeded all expectations. Free and open to the public, The Refueling Station demonstrated out-of-the-box creativity, impeccable attention to detail, and a very unique consumer experience which showcased its super-high quality ingredients.
I spoke with Founder/CEO Rachel Drori about the pop-up and the company’s mission to support organic agriculture. Here is an edited version of our conversation.
Why did you do this pop-up and what were you hoping to achieve?
With our food, we co-create everything with our customers. The products that we first launched are very different than they are now. That is because customers tell us what they want, and we make changes accordingly.
At this pop-up, we wanted to provoke customers to have a conversation with us, give them something to walk away with, and articulate the importance of fruits and vegetables in a fun and engaging environment.
Can you discuss The Refueling Station concept of this pop-up?
We are all overwhelmed and busy, and are having ‘hangry’ episodes with one foot IRL (in real life) and one foot in the digital world. If you trade care for convenience, you are feeding yourself things such as bars, shakes and powders, which are hyper-processed and refined. They are also items you find in a gas station or a bodega.
So, we decided to take a slurpy and a hot dog — products that you would find at a gas station — and turn them on their head by creating a food oasis instead of a food swamp.
Additionally, we wanted to show that you can find something that fits into your lifestyle but doesn’t require you to compromise about what you eat. You can nourish yourself at the speed of life.
What percentage of your products are certified organic?
What are you doing to support transitional organic?
Part of our mission is to take care of food and that means increasing the availability of organic, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables.
There are crops where supply is tight in the organic market. So, we partnered with farmers who want to transition from conventional to organic — an expensive process that takes three years — in order to increase the overall supply of organic and to give back to the food system in general.
Out of the 1.6% of our ingredients that are not organic, some are transitional and some are not. It is our goal that one day all of them will be transitional.
Your products are not USDA certified organic. Why not?
There are several reasons for this.
We are on an 8-week innovation cycle, and USDA organic certification means in some cases that we can’t move things the way in which customers expect. USDA organic certification would preclude us from using transitional organic ingredients as well, and sometimes it is hard for our farmers to get certified organic. In the rare cases when our ingredients are not USDA certified organic, we do not use anything on EWG’s Dirty Dozen list.
The sweet potatoes we have now are transitional. We did not want to use them in the first year of transition because we felt that they needed more time, but we paid the farmer the delta anyhow — the price between organic and conventional sweet potatoes in order to support this transition. It was only in the second year did we start to use these sweet potatoes.
The other barometer we use to qualify ingredients is “Would I eat it?” Green tea is a good example of this. Even though green tea is not on the Dirty Dozen list, non-organic, non-shaded green tea is not something that I would ever consume. And that means our customers are not going to consume it either.
Are you testing your ingredients for glyphosate?
Yes, we started doing this a few months ago and are learning much more about it. However, we have not gotten through everything yet.
Did the question about organic ingredients come up a lot at the pop-up and how much is organic a part of your communication strategy?
It did not come up too often. Our goal is to have customers trust our brand and that we are going to be very discerning, careful and thoughtful when it comes to the ingredients that we use.
Organic is not a huge part of our messaging now but will be as we evolve. This is a work in progress, and it does not come through enough in our branding.
Although I had tried the company’s products and interacted several times with Rachel Drori prior to this event, the pop-up was my first in-person, in-depth exposure to Daily Harvest. Needless to say, I was pretty blown away by what I saw and what I learned. Aside from the flawless execution of the pop-up and the great tasting smoothies, oatmeal and cookies, it is what the company is doing to support organic farmers that really made an impression.
As this company grows and makes healthy, organic meals available to a larger number of people, organic farmers will also benefit — something of utmost importance. Furthermore, the company has the financial resources and strong commitment to transition much more farmland to organic, which will increase the supply of organic and decrease the amount of super-toxic pesticides that are sprayed on our soil.
This brand is going to be a very, very formidable player in our industry for years to come, and most importantly, it will be making a real positive impact along the way.
If you don’t live in NYC or missed the pop-up, we have some good news. Daily Harvest will be taking this pop-up on the road. The cities that it will be visiting in 2019 will be announced very soon, and Organic Insider will share this information with its readers as soon as it becomes available.
(The checkout counter where customers turned in a list of their favorite ingredients.)
(Strawberry peach and mint cacao smoothies.)
(The car wash — where the smoothies and oatmeal are prepared. Loved the conveyor belt!)
(In the back of the pop-up, there were three selfie stations, complete with real grass and plants.)
(Because no pop-up is complete without an electric avocado for the kids to ride.)
(With the star of the show — Daily Harvest CEO/Founder Rachel Drori.)
Two photo credits to Vladimir Weinstein/BFA.com.
Wishing you all a happy and organic Thanksgiving!
Max Goldberg, Founder
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* General Mills gave Georgia Organics, a non-profit organization that connects organic food from Georgia farms to Georgia families, $50,000 to help farmers hurt by Hurricane Michael. Very cool!
* The controversial Mike Adams (aka The Health Ranger) has a very big following and presumably sells A LOT of organic product. An announcement was made yesterday that he will be testing in-house all of his products for glyphosate.
* To emphasize its cancer recovery program, Santa Barbara, CA-based Organic Soup Kitchen will be delivering 100% plant-based holiday meals to cancer patients and seniors with sensitive or compromised immune systems.
* In Los Angeles, Bumsan Organic Milk Bar is serving premium 100% organic soft serve ice cream from the leading organic dairy producer in Korea.
* Jeffrey Smith and Amy Hart have released Secret Ingredients, a documentary about the health risks of GMOs. The trailer can be watched HERE.
* Regenerative Earth Summit: Food + Fiber + Climate will be taking place December 5-6 in Boulder, CO. Headlining the event will be Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario, Fair Trade USA Founder Paul Rice, and Lotus Foods Co-CEO Kenneth Lee. For details and pricing, click HERE. Organic Insider subscribers can enjoy 10% OFF Summit passes by using the code Inside10 at checkout.
The day before, on December 4th from 5-8pm, The Farm to Fashion Show will be taking place in Denver. It will be an international showcase of brands and independent designers using regenerative fiber sourcing for their apparel – on the runway are Eileen Fisher, Allbirds, prAna, Patagonia and many more. This event is open to the public.