Made in Georgia: Nature’s Garden Express delivers local groceries to your door

Photo credit: Atlanta Idea Studio 2014

A box of fresh produce delivered right to your door – with only the produce you want and no surprises?

That’s what Nature’s Garden Express delivers. This online grocery store offers to-your-door delivery of organic and local produce, fresh cold-pressed juice, meats, dairy products and just about everything on your shopping list.

In 2009, (left to right) Scott Frishman and Michael Kirk founded the business that is now Nature’s Garden Express. (Photo credit: Nature’s Garden Express 2017)

The creation of Scott Frishman and Michael Kirk and founded in 2009, Nature’s Garden Express grew out of their desire to connect organic farmers (and food producers) with consumers, but allowing for flexibility in what was received and providing delivery right to the customer’s front door.

The company started as a variation of a decades-old idea, CSAs, or community-supported agriculture programs, which connect farmers with consumers by allowing the consumer to buy a share of the farm’s output. Consumers pay up front for their share, then each week (or every other week), they receive a portion of whatever the farm is growing.

CSAs offer consumers access to fresh, local and, often, organic produce. But at something of a price. A bumper season for peppers might find the consumer with on the receiving end of fifteen peppers, a half dozen tomatoes, an eggplant, a handful of green beans and a bunch of Swiss chard. The dilemma for the recipient, what to do with all that? And with the peppers sure to follow the next week?

Nature’s Garden Express offers customers the opportunity to support farmers and enjoy organic produce, but in a customized way. Customers shop online, editing the produce they want in their box, and adding items such as desserts from Alon’s Bakery and eggs from Rise ‘N Shine Organic Farm. There’s no commitment to a purchase. Customers can start and stop box delivery any time, ordering once a year or once a week.

Packers work the line, custom packing each box with exactly what the customer ordered. Each box is different. (Photo credit: Nature’s Garden Express 2017)

Then Monday through Friday eight packers load up to 2,000 boxes of food that will be delivered via one of the company’s nine delivery vans to stops within 50-mile radius of Atlanta or through its FedEx partner to locations across the Southeast and beyond.

From their start nine years ago with Frishman and Kirk delivering the boxes themselves, Nature’s Garden Express has now delivered more than a half million boxes to customers from Tucker to Maine, California and the Florida Keys.

When they sign up for a box, customers receive an advance email of what the company plans to deliver. Then the customer gets to work. “What our customers love is the ability to really dial in their order exactly as they want it. We might suggest a box with four apples, three grapefruit, a bunch of carrots and a pound of broccoli, among other things. They can go online and decide they only need two apples, no carrots and want five grapefruit, exchanging what we selected for what they need at that time. When they signed up, they gave us their preferences, so we already know that they never want to receive mushrooms but they’re ok with any type of green we can put in their box,” says Kirk.

The produce is organic and often local.  (Photo credit: Nature’s Garden Express 2017)

The offerings include all the standard grocery items like celery, onions and potatoes but also more interesting produce such as fiddle head ferns and finger limes. “One of the most exciting root vegetables I’ve gotten into myself is taro root. It’s a starch and has a very similar taste and texture as potatoes. It’s absolutely fantastic. We offer fun things like galangal. We think of this as sort of an educational component to our service. We’ll offer these things in your box and hope you’ll decide to try it.”

Allowing customers to customize their box means Nature’s Garden Express has its finger on what metro Atlantans are eating. Kirk says some of the items trending for them right now are beef, chicken and alpaca bone broths from Atlanta’s Bone & Co. or Carrell Farms in Monroe, water buffalo sausages from Carrell Farms, kefir from Woodstock’s Ancient Awakenings and hemp-derived cannabidiol oils from CV Sciences.

The company’s nine vans fan out in a 50-mile radius of Atlanta delivering each box to the customer’s front door. (Photo credit: Nature’s Garden Express 2017)

“Our demand forecast tells us who is active, who is on hold and what type of boxes we have subscribed for the week. We have to make sure we don’t have too much food in our coolers, but also that we have enough so we don’t put ourselves in a tight spot. We have to do all our buying before our customers begin editing their orders so we pay attention to our commodity trends over the past nine years. It’s not like we’re stocking vacuum cleaners and they can stay on the shelf until they sell. It’s an art and a science and it’s definitely not exact,” says Kirk.

“Our job is to procure perishable commodities from all over, make sure we get them at a fair price and make sure they meet our standards for quality. We are the last point in the supply chain. Everything has to make its way to us in great condition and our packers and drivers make sure it makes its way to our customers in great condition. If we don’t do a good job, our customers will decide they’re going to the grocery store instead of depending on us.”

Wanting to do good in the community, they’re partnering with the Georgia Department of Agriculture to deliver a “Georgia Proud” box to families in need. “These boxes are donations to families living in low income neighborhoods who don’t have easy access to supermarkets. Our customers have the option to donate five dollars to the program when they make their purchases and we’ve been surprised at the number of people who donate regularly and frequently. We wish we had started this five years ago.”

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Just a few of the fresh cold-pressed juices from Nature’s Garden Express. (Photo credit: Nature’s Garden Express 2017)

As for what’s next, juices will play a growing role in the business. In 2015, Nature’s Garden Express began producing cold-pressed juices and selling them at the Morningside, Grant Park and Alpharetta farmers markets and at their juice bar at Krog Street market. “The juice is also available through Amazon and will soon be in at grocery stores such as Sprouts, Whole Foods and Fresh Market. The cold-pressed juices are really becoming a larger part of our business.”

 

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