Tossed Salads and… Scrambled Eggs?
Farmer’s Fridge brings healthy food choices to vending kiosks.
Just two years ago, Luke Saunders was traveling for his sales job and having trouble finding quick, healthy food options. An idea struck him: if he could work up a foolproof distribution model, he could sell handcrafted salads out of automated machines.
With this goal in mind, last year Saunders founded Farmer’s Fridge, a Chicago-based company, which manufactures its own kiosks and stocks them with fresh salads daily.
“I thought this would be very viable in today’s age,” Saunders says. “It’s a fresh twist on an old concept. And it backs our belief that great tasting food can be really good for you and really easy to get. It’s no more complicated than that.”
Although known as an entrepreneur to his friends and family—after all, Saunders co-owned and operated an on-campus bicycle shop while a student at Washington University—the reactions to the idea were as mixed as a tossed salad.
“My wife was really supportive of the idea and other friends thought it was worth pursuing,” he says. “Then there were those who would tell me that no one will ever buy it. But those people are the ones who, now that it’s up and running, are saying how great an idea it is.”
The first step was to create the vending machines necessary to get the concept to fruition. With no background in machine design or vending kiosks, Saunders had to experiment and learn on the job. He has experience in manufacturing and sales, and knew that important part of the business but vending machines were a new challenge.
The machines are made from reclaimed wood provided by Modern Urban Woods of West Chicago and some recycled materials from other machines. Saunders learned how to take pieces from different machines and designed a sort of pseudo-Franken-kiosk, complete with a custom-designed touchscreen.
How it works
Using the touchscreen, customers select from a variety of salad choices. Offerings include Antioxidant Salad (mixed greens, mixed berries, goat cheese, sprouts, flax seeds and more); and High Protein Salad (Organic spinach, chickpeas, Parmesan, local corn, local peas, organic quinoa, figs, broccoli, pumpkin seeds) in addition to many others. Breakfast and snack items are also available—new soups are expected to be introduced. Customers can choose to customize their salads from an array of add-ons—these include lemon-pepper chicken or baked tofu among others. The original salads cost $8 each while add-ons each cost $2. The salad and the add-ons are all delivered in mason jars so the customer carries out the final step of mixing the add-ons if any.
While many customers choose to eat straight from the jar, the company does provide plates on the side as well. There’s a jar return nearby, but it’s not necessary that they be given back. However, Saunders hopes to institute a refund plan for jars.
The machines discount any salads not sold by 6 p.m. by $1 and when the food is replaced the next day at 10 a.m., any unsold food is donated to the local food pantry.
Initially, two kiosks were given a trial run in Chicago, and
20 other machines were set up around the area in February. “It’s all very localized and that’s how it will be for a while,” Saunders says. “We are here at 5 a.m., making them fresh every day, and we can’t easily ship to another part of the country.”
Saunders has given franchising some thought, but hasn’t yet figured out what the model and fees would look like for the business to be profitable. “We feel it can be very valuable in Chicago and at this point, we are considering all options and have a lot of interest from other parts of the country, so we are trying to figure out how to do that quickly but also ensure that it’s a true representation of a business model that can be successful,” Saunders says. “We have to make [fresh] food every morning and take it to [the] machine and stock it. It’s a very aggressive format.”
The key to success, he feels, is not to think of Farmer’s Fridge as a vending machine company. “We have to think of ourselves as a logistics company—we’re not a food company, we’re not a kiosk company—our business is going to be about where we put the food, how much and how efficiently we deliver,” he says. “Logistics are very important. From a long-term standpoint we are very focused on getting that down and knowing the analytics of what we should put in the machines at each location based on what people are buying each day.”
For more information, please visit farmersfridge.com.