Southern pride runs deep in the food delivery market | Crain's Atlanta

Southern pride runs deep in the food delivery market

Food delivery services have quickly become the latest ecommerce trend, with a range of national companies for Atlanta metro-area consumers to choose from. Big names on the scene include Blue Apron—which might be priming for an IPO—and HelloFresh, which has reportedly raised more than $360 million in funding.

Their large scale plans are all about serving the masses, without a personal, local touch. That's where several local companies come in, offering meal kits and foodie subscription boxes—with an emphasis on what makes the Peach State special.

Atlanta-area meal kits emphasize local produce

Emily Golub created Garnish & Gather, a meal kit service very similar to the large scale competitors. She was sick of having to buy specific ingredients to complete a recipe, only to never use them again.

“I wanted a solution that was helping me connect with local farmers and helping me to eat local and seasonal,” she said.

Fellow Atlanta startup PeachDish also emphasizes locally sourced, organic ingredients—and the region itself is an asset, says PeachDish president Judith Winfrey.

“The South in general, in terms of food businesses, offers some interesting advantages in that we have a really great growing season in the south. We produce a lot of food, we’re the third largest [agriculture] state in the country. I definitely feel that many Atlantans support our business because they appreciate the products and they appreciate the fact that we work directly with farmers around this area,” she said.

Fresh Harvest takes a page out of the CSA book

Kits like Garnish & Gather and PeachDish deliver everything the user needs for the perfect meal, complete with the exact measurements of each ingredient, as well as step-by-step instructions for cooking. That's not the only option, however. Consumers who like the idea of using locally sourced food but want a little more freedom may go with a model like Fresh Harvest, a subscription service that sources fresh produce from local farms.

The business is modeled after a CSA, or "Community Supported Agriculture" program, in which people sign up to receive local, seasonal food from a nearby farm—often picked up at a farmers market or other central location on weekly basis.

“You could say [CSA is] like the original box program," said Fresh Harvest co-founder David Melton. "Typically with a CSA, and what keeps a lot of people out of them, [is] it’s single-sourced from one farm. You pay upfront for a year or for a share or a season. And very rarely do you have the ability to customize the contents of the basket. You just sort of get whatever the grower has."

In contrast, Fresh Harvest informs subscribers every week what produce is available from local farms. They then have a few days to customize their basket and add extra groceries before delivery. Melton knows this sets him apart from the meal kit pack, and he embraces the difference.

“The folks who want a meal kit, they probably would find Fresh Harvest a little too labor intensive because it is just a basket of fruits and vegetables, and you have to figure out what to do with it,” he said.

Prepared meal services are still popular

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Fresh-n-Fit Cuisine, which delivers meals already cooked and assembled by professional chefs—all you have to do is reheat and enjoy. And while many delivery startups have launched in the last five years or so, Fresh-n-Fit has been around since 2003. 

“Now there’s so much opportunity, as far as the farm-to-table, to get into this business. And because the cost of entry is pretty small you can go in through a shared kitchen. That’s one thing that has accelerated the growth, especially in Atlanta. There are a bunch of shared kitchen facilities so you don’t have to invest in a facility like ours,” said owner Elston Collins.

Going back even further than Fresh-n-Fit is Instead of Flowers, which was founded in 1990. Their model is most similar to that of Fresh-n-Fit Cuisine, in that they deliver fully prepared meals without any shopping or cooking hassle. But rather than marketing itself for busy people needing weeknight dinners, Instead of Flowers is billed as a gift service.

The meals are gourmet and can be chosen off the website to be sent to loved ones “instead of flowers.” Owner Micah Serwitz said there’s a range of reasons people choose his service.

“We do have customers buying multiple gifts for people that are laid up at home for a week or longer, or sick, or new moms,” he said.

Beyond simply meals, foodie subscriptions abound

Atlanta's local coffee scene has been exploding, with several micro-roasters expanding to capitalize on the subscription box trend.

That includes Lawrence Johnson and Jessica Craven, who started Black Moon Coffee to showcase the overwhelming amount of high-end java from Atlanta. Their subscription features a different local roaster featured every month.

“What’s special about the coffee industry here in Atlanta is that there are a lot of micro-roasters popping up out of nowhere. People are just investing a few thousand dollars into a coffee roaster and then they’re starting to roast this amazing coffee micro-roast. And it’s really just come out of nowhere,” Johnson said.

Black Moon Coffee buys only from Atlanta roasters, she said—and that's important to their business model.

“We connect local Atlanta consumers, and consumers all over the U.S. to these Atlanta-based coffee roasters that aren’t very well known, but they’re absolutely fantastic,” Johnson said.

Like Black Moon Coffee, Georgia Crafted is designed to showcase the region. Every month founder Erin Zwigart ​curates a selection of products from local Georgia artisans and ships them nationwide, spreading a little taste of the south to all corners of the U.S.

In her monthlies and themed gift boxes, you’re likely to find fried peanuts with chocolate toffee, or an all-natural lip balm with a scented soap.

“I tell people, if you’re buying a Georgia Crafted box that contains four products, right then you just helped support four—technically five if you want to include me in the mix—small local businesses in Georgia," said Zwigart, who founded the business in 2013. "The whole concept is to help support the Georgia economy. And people relate to that."

Melton of Fresh Harvest agreed that the deep-rooted pride in Georgia keeps these services alive.

“That’s really the lifeline of who we are, the local growing," he said. "It’s what has enabled us to continue and to grow even in a market where there’s a lot of options."

May 16, 2017 - 4:23pm