Green Fork is building a unique business model that draws on the “buy local” food model as the basis of a meal-delivery service that provides a new twist on what Blue Apron is doing. Four years into offering one-day shipping of meal kits from organic farms, Green Fork founder Anton Burkett is now looking to expand his farm-to-table subscription service across the U.S.
Based in Ithaca, N.Y., Green Fork serves the Tri-State area (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) plus Western Massachusetts, Vermont and Pennsylvania with a GMO-free dining proposition that’s more local and direct-to-consumer.
Its subscription model includes one-day delivery of meal kits based on about a half-dozen weekly menu selections. Customers make their picks online from meals inspired by what’s in season from local farms and producers. The recipes reflect local tastes and what’s fresh and in season, with locals also assembling and delivering the meal kits.
The brainchild of organic farmer Anton Burkett, Green Fork operates a Community Sourced Agriculture farm that allows members to purchase a “share” of its vegetables. Inspired by Burkett’s Early Morning Farm mission to grow fresh, organic food and strengthen the local community of eaters, Green Fork’s mission is to connect home cooks to local agriculture. (The pitch: “Make Mealtime Better! Seasonal Ingredients. Regional Cuisine. Your Kitchen.’)
Over 20 years, the farm amassed more than 1,500 members who subscribed to weekly deliveries at more than 50 local pick-up sites. In 2013, Burkett and business partner Tracy McEvilly decided to start a recipe blog to help customers create delicious meals with their produce, developing a library of more than 1,000 recipes. From there came the idea of expanding the business to bring not only produce but meal kits and a virtual farmers’ market to the home, along with recipes and the ingredients.
Green Fork provides customers with perfectly portioned ingredients, delivered in a chilled recipe box with easy to follow instructions on illustrated recipe cards. It assembles and delivers the boxes, which include vegetables, sides, seasonings and grass-fed meats from a local butcher. As part of its purpose-driven mission, its employees include people from Challenge Workforce Solutions, which helps find jobs for individuals with disabilities or other employment barriers.
“It was incredibly important for us to support our local region while also helping grow jobs in our own backyard,” Burkett told brandchannel. He shares the unique challenges and opportunities of building his startup’s brand, business model and aspirations in the Q&A below.
bc: Do you have designs on expanding the Green Fork model geographically, and how would you scale that given your emphasis on hyper-local food?
Anton Burkett (right): The thing about our model is that we’re doing a one-day ship while most of our competition—Blue Apron, Plated, Hello Fresh and others—are doing one- or two-day ships. So they’ll pack more ingredients in the box. They have hubs on the East and West Coasts and then somewhere in the middle of the country and reach the entire country doing that within two days.
We only do one-day (shipping), and that means less packaging while our recipes and ingredients can be sourced more regionally and locally. As we expand, the next thing we’ll need to do is get more hubs.
If you look at Blue Apron and so on, the recipes are the same across the country, and the ingredients are the same. We’re trying to localize and work more closely with farmers and local food producers in our region. So the next step for us after New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Massachusetts is to open a hub in Georgia or Maine or wherever and focus on recipes for that area, which would be different than our competitors, and would all be one-day shipping. All our distribution centers will be on the East Coast.
bc: Are you only available as a subscription, or are there other options?
Burkett: We call it a soft subscription. People sign up for it and you are subscribed, so you’ll get your weekly box. But you can skip any week you want. You can cancel at any time too. Each week we have six recipes on the menu that people can choose from and, depending on the plan, they’re getting two to four recipes and ingredients.
bc: Besides being fresh and local, what are your other criteria for your ingredients?
Burkett: We are looking for sustainable production practices. I’m an organic farmer, so Certified Organic is definitely a plus. But we realize that’s not always possible, so we’re looking for other sustainable production practices. And scale sometimes can be an issue. We work with smaller-scale producers first.
bc: How do you incorporate meat?
Burkett: We’ve got a local butcher in Ithaca who specializes in sustainably-produced and grass-fed meats. We don’t cater to vegan, but there are two or three recipes each week that are vegetarian options.
Burkett: A lot of it is word of mouth. We have some Facebook ads and we’re trying to get the word out through the press. But we’re not VC-backed so we don’t have a big ad budget. We want our growth to be slow and steady anyway. People like our product, and we keep getting more sign-ups every week.
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