David McInerney, co-founder of FreshDirect, travels the world looking for the freshest, best-tasting and best-looking fruit, vegetables and artisanal food. He’s found blueberries at Family Tree Farms in Kettleman City, Calif.; wild salmon in Copper River, Alaska; wild Patagonian Red Shrimp in Argentina; corn and other vegetables from Altobelli Family Farms in Kinderhook, N.Y.; and heritage-breed, pasture-raised pork from Flying Pigs Farm in Shushan, N.Y.
It’s not uncommon for grocery retailers to source goods from all over the world, but the common practice is for stores to work with distributors or brokers and several other middlemen to get their food. FreshDirect practices what its name preaches – it deals directly with the farmers and artisans to get the best food possible to its customers.
“We are finding a better way to get fresh produce to people’s houses,” Chief Marketing Officer John Leeman explains. “The problem with brick-and-mortar stores is that there are a lot of middlemen involved, the food travels a long way, it takes a long time and there’s a lot of scrap. As a result, the consumer doesn’t get food as fresh as it could be. With our system, we can get food from a farm and deliver it to people’s houses the next day.”
FreshDirect operates from a single location in New York by using a central distribution model to take food from farms and get it to customers’ houses – at a time specified by the customer – regardless of where they live in the Tri-state area and Philadelphia. But not only does FreshDirect deliver fresh produce, customers also can choose from a comprehensive offering of food and grocery items.
Focusing on providing the highest-quality goods, FreshDirect offers a variety of produce, meat, seafood, deli items, cheese and dairy products, pasta, coffee, and health and beauty items. Customers can specify the cut of meat they want, how their deli meats are shaved, and they can shop for kosher and organic items, buy in bulk and have fresh flowers delivered. Understanding the importance of convenience, FreshDirect also offers 4-Minute Meals full of fresh ingredients that can be steamed – via specialized packaging – in the microwave, as well as ready-to-cook, heat-and-eat and bakery items. Additionally, the company offers frozen goods, wine and catering services.
“We make sure everything’s good when it comes in,” Leeman stresses. “We taste everything we get every day, and the produce is star-rated for flavor. It helps guide customers’ shopping and helps to bridge the trust gap – we want them to trust that we are going to deliver quality. Typically, the produce with the highest number of stars is the stuff that’s in season, so this system helps people buy the better-quality goods. Additionally, when you buy in season, the product is more plentiful and the prices are lower.”
A key aspect in building customer trust and loyalty and ensuring a consistently high level of quality is FreshDirect’s ability to maintain close relationships with its farmers and suppliers. Leeman explains that McInerney travels all the time to ensure FreshDirect’s partners meet the higher quality it is dedicated to providing, as well as to confirm they are operating in an environmentally sustainable way and align with FreshDirect’s values.
“We do our due diligence in understanding everything we can about the products we offer and the people we work with,” Leeman says. “These high principles help us to establish trust with our customers. We buy directly from participating farms and people and it’s important to us to go out and see where our product is coming from. We believe our customers are a little more educated and caring about what they buy, and we want to help our customers understand a little more deeply about the products we sell.”
At the same time, FreshDirect primarily works with smaller farmers who have the same high standards in product quality and operations, so FreshDirect is vested in helping the farmers succeed and build their own brands. Many of the company’s products are labeled with the name of the farm they came from, and names of its suppliers and farmers are listed on its delivery trucks. FreshDirect has 65 to 80 local suppliers, but that is growing all the time, Leeman says.
“We are blowing expectations away because we work hard to ensure our quality is the best that’s available anywhere from anyone,” he says.