At the downtown loft headquarters of a new food startup, a vintage poster reads: “Grow food on an organic farm.” It wasn’t hung to conjure nostalgia. Good Eggs LA believes that eating local, sustainably produced food is better for consumers, farmers, and the planet, and its committed team of 12 is working tirelessly to help transform the city’s food culture.
Good Eggs starts by connecting customers to food in a deeply personal way. The first order I placed was left at my door before coming home from work, and I unpacked a bottle of almond milk, clusters of herbs, and baby kale before discovering a handwritten note thanking me for my order. It’s easy to be charmed by the old fashioned glass bottles filled with yogurt and organic milk, and the ease of its delivery model, but Good Eggs is more than just a 21st century grocer that leaves produce at your doorstep.
CEO and founder Rob Spiro hatched the idea for Good Eggs two years ago in San Francisco. His past experience as a tech entrepreneur compelled him to wonder if software technology might enable the growth of a more viable local food economy. After piloting a model in the Bay Area, Good Eggs expanded to New York, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. The company’s business model is a hybrid of for-profit strategies and socially conscious sensibilities, a blend that is attracting a loyal supporter base who eagerly evangelize its mission of growing and sustaining local food systems worldwide.
The Los Angeles staff currently operates out of a small residential loft, but since launching in summer 2013, Good Eggs LA has grown so rapidly that the team will be relocating to a new warehouse facility in a matter of months. Inside is a bustle of activity, from cooking a staff lunch to conducting meetings at the long dining table, and staff sit or stand wherever there’s empty space between shelves of recycled bottles and delivery bags. The energy feels more like a family-run business than an energetic food startup, and that’s just how community builder Max Kanter prefers it. Exceedingly modest, Max often deflects attention from Good Eggs in favor of highlighting the companies it collaborates with every day.
“It’s not about buying the brand of Good Eggs,” he says, “It’s about the producers and farmers you’re supporting.”
We sat at a picnic bench in the office’s lush courtyard to discuss the work of Good Eggs, the challenges it faces, and its plans for growth. This is the story of how one company is changing the food landscape of Los Angeles.
It’s clear Good Eggs seeks to be more than a grocery delivery service. How does it approach changing the food landscape?
We are a for-profit company, but we’re a mission-driven company. We need to sustain and make this model profitable, but we don’t see this as an opportunity to make billions of dollars for a few people. We want to grow the local food economy, and have created a structure and model to do that. Community building is part of our strategy, which makes it really fun. We’re very hungry in LA for this kind of access to local food. There’s a huge community of people who are aware of the benefits and on board with the mission, but nothing existed to fulfill this need until Good Eggs arrived.
In Los Angeles, what are the biggest challenges you face?
Initially, we thought transporting the food would be hard. Yes, it takes a bit more time, but we have seven delivery people who each work in a different radius. The big challenge isn’t getting food to the customer, but getting the food to our food hub. LA has a culture of going to the farmer’s market for local food, but we want everyone to come to us so we can deliver from a centralized location. Right now, we have to go to those markets to get produce. This adds a step, but as we scale, we should be able to convince the farmers to deliver to us directly. We’re not trying to compete with farmers markets, just provide another viable option for you to get your local food.
What is a typical day like at Good Eggs?
If it’s a distribution day, someone’s in early receiving food, prepping to pack, and separating the items. Bagging takes about two hours with our operations team. Another team takes meetings, calls food makers, encourages partnerships, or is strategizing on where we need to be in six months and how to get there. There’s always a lot of food coming in and out, and nothing sits in our office for more than four hours. We don’t store anything fresh.
If we make mistakes, Good Eggs is really transparent, and most of the time customers understand due to the nature of the system. One time a producer’s refrigerator broke and couldn’t deliver the product. It’s rare, but it happens. Our strategy is to always be honest, remain calm, and to come up with solutions quickly.
How are the relationships with local producers established?
It’s a mix of us finding them and them finding us. Many are looking for a marketplace. They’d rather sell at local markets or directly to customers, so we keep the power in the producer’s hands by distributing what they sell.
I would think this allows you to see holes in the system.
Exactly. It’s a test of where our local food economy is. What areas need more entrepreneurs? Dairy and cheese have been a challenge. We don’t have any organic dairy in southern California, only large-scale commercial producers, so we have to go a little farther, but long-term, we want to help facilitate change. Let’s say we have 5,000 weekly buyers. That means we have power to convince someone to sell local dairy. Getting those wheels turning is important to us, and we want to facilitate relationships now that we have a local marketplace.
When you’re looking for producers, what radius do you consider “local”?
Our average product comes from between 100-150 miles from Los Angeles. Other things we can’t get like dairy might come from 200 miles.
How have customers played a role in Good Eggs?
We’re all in this together, and that’s why it’s a movement. Customers give wonderful feedback, and many of our original customers have seen the growth and evolution since we started, so they’re sold on this being a great way to grow the local food economy. Our model allows us to build a customer base that’s mission-driven, rather than just convincing customers to try us.
We’re all in this together, and that’s why it’s a movement.
What do you hope a new customer feels after experiencing their first delivery?
That feeling of food being really fresh and coming from really close by is key. Knowing that it didn’t sit around and has recently been harvested or made. If we can convey that, people will know their food is local and be excited to support the local community. Also, that we care, and we love that they care too. It’s an integrity thing. We use that word a lot, but we want our entire process to be built on integrity at all levels.
We want the experience to be personal because it’s like a peer-to-peer network. If we’re all trying to grow this local food economy, we’re all peers on some level, and we try to keep that connectivity between our staff and customers.
As a customer myself, a word that comes to mind is empowerment. There’s something powerful about knowing your purchase is supporting local farmers.
I love that, the concept of being empowered by what you consume. It’s really easy to go into a grocery store and be bombarded by marketing to feel empowered, but the products you’re buying are coming from all over the country. With Good Eggs, you can come to events and meet people, you can email the farmers. We provide a connection you don’t get when you go to the grocery store.
How do you see technology playing a role in the food movement?
There’s a range of ages in the farm world, and some are great with technology. Older generations are still realizing its potential and adjusting to a new business model, so we hire people called “food makers” who work with the farmers to be sure they’re familiar with the software and know how to change their product inventory, for example, and we want to offer support as their business grows and changes.
Big picture. What’s your vision for the food future of Los Angeles?
I would like to see a strong community of farm entrepreneurs within the city working on creating viable businesses that can sell their food though a local market. We need an agricultural boom in LA. It’s happening, but I want to see the private market pick up the slack and be more lucrative for farming and making the focus local and smaller scale. I envision there being a dozen farms within a 10 minute drive of where we are right now that are producing all year long. I also hope to see a visual change in the landscape where you’ll find food growing on buildings or on rooftop gardens. It will only happen if you make it a viable business. It can’t just be community supported, but must be built into the economy.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Besides coffee? I have really clung to the idea that instead of sitting in my apartment reading about these issues, I want to be doing something to help change the system. For me, being part of a company like this is a form of expression, and building community around our mission is very gratifying.
I feel like I’m living in the future a little bit. It feels so innovative, and that’s exciting because I’m participating in a way that will help achieve the goals and visions that we all collectively have, and I believe Good Eggs can facilitate that growth.
To get started with Good Eggs, visit their website at goodeggs.com.