Food delivery services bring North Carolina products to your door
Ten years ago it was tough to get fresh, locally produced food. Trekking to the farmers market or driving out to a farm were among the few options.
Today, area consumers can choose from a plethora of providers specializing in North Carolina products, most of which deliver produce, meat, bread, cheese and other artisan products right to your door.
“Before it was only the folks who strongly identified with farmers markets, who brought their reusable bags and made kimchi,” said Robyn Stout, statewide program coordinator for the NC 10 Percent Campaign. “Before, it was limited to that population, and now we’re expanding local foods to a much wider audience.”
Produce Box neighborhood coordinator Vivian Denning, left, and area manager Mary Beth Cotterell load boxes of produce into Denning’s car at a drop location in Cary. Denning then delivers customers’ orders directly to their homes.
These home delivery services have taken off primarily because of the growing demand for local, sustainable food, says Stout.
“I have never seen a state that is so into its own products and its own people,” agreed David Welsh, co-owner of online grocery The Carolina Market. “Call it heritage, call it values, call it pride, whatever it is, it’s crazy. And the culture of supporting farmers and supporting local businesses is crazy, and I mean crazy in a good way.”
And then, there’s the undeniable convenience of home delivery.
“At a time when we’re used to going online, clicking a button, and within two days exactly what you want arrives at your doorstep, the home delivery part is so convenient and so attractive,” said Stout.
For the busy, health-conscious, civic-minded gourmand, the only problem is finding the right delivery service.
So while there are others to choose from, we offer a peek at three companies – each with a slightly different take on the business model.
The Produce Box – Grassroots Growth
Courtney Tellefsen started The Produce Box in 2008 as a way to bring fresh produce to her neighbors and friends. And the Raleigh-based company still has that community focus, even though it now serves nearly 9,000 customers in the Triangle, Triad, Charlotte and Wilmington.
Members pay a one-time fee to sign up, and then each week choose from among five to eight boxes with varied ingredients, depending on season and supply.
Bethany Etgen and other neighborhood coordinators with The Produce Box meet a delivery truck to unload boxes and put customer orders in their cars.
“We do a good job of answering to two masters,” said Tellefsen. “Our main focus is balancing the needs of our farmers with the needs of our customers.”
By mixing less popular items with high demand items, the Produce Box provides continuity for the farmers and encourages customers to experiment.
“It has forced me to broaden my horizons,” said Mary Beth Cotterell, a Produce Box area manager for Cary, Apex and Morrisville. “Now I eat vegetables that I would never have gotten from the grocery store.”
Boxes are usually about $25, with larger boxes a bit pricier. Members can add specialty items such as locally made cheese, bread, preserves or pickles.
Once the orders are filled, boxes go out to the neighborhood coordinators. In the Triangle, more than 200 mostly stay-at-home moms make the deliveries.
“I look forward to delivering to their homes,” said Bethany Etgen, a neighborhood coordinator in Cary. “You feel like you’re part of their life. You realize it’s a community; they’re not just customers.”
Bethany Etgen delivers customers’ Produce Box orders directly to their doorstep. Etgen is one of more than 200 mostly stay-at-home moms who make deliveries in the Triangle.
In addition to promoting local food, The Produce Box is determined to serve the wider community. Through its Farm Fund, the company has given more than $20,000 to farmers to make capital improvements.
For example, for the last two years James Taylor, a Johnston County farmer, has received between $1,500 and $1,800 from The Produce Box to buy asparagus crowns, Tellefsen said.
Members can easily buy boxes to send to local police officers and firefighters so they can enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables. And each year charities across the state receive hundreds of boxes of produce to help feed the hungry, thanks to member donations.
“I like being part of something that is impacting our community in a big way,” said Tellefsen. “I like seeing it grow tentacles. It started out as something for myself, my family and my neighbors. … I love that we can make an impact, other than just being a grocery-delivery service.”
Papa Spud’s – Scoping out the Unique
Rob Meyer, the founder of Cary-based Papa Spud’s, is proud of the variety of products and convenience his service offers.
“I don’t know anyone who offers the variety of fruits and vegetables that we do,” he said. “We’re a little more creative, more adventurous, more willing to get out there and try new things. We try to keep things fun and interesting.”
Inspired by the community markets he saw in Quito, Ecuador, as a Peace Corps volunteer, Meyer started Papa Spud’s in 2008. Today, the company serves about 2,000 customers from Chapel Hill to Fuquay-Varina.
Papa Spud’s founder Rob Meyer wants to provide a market for local growers and food producers, but he also wants to give consumers another shopping option. “Our main push is to just get people out of the grocery store,” he said.
“When I first started, you could go to the farmers market or you could go to the grocery store. There were only two choices and nothing in between,” he said. “We are just an added option for people to have.”
Customers sign up online, setting up a profile and a standing default order. Each week customers can keep that order or change it, choosing from more than 200 mostly N.C. products, including meat, eggs, gluten-free bakery goods and prepared foods. A regular box costs about $24.
A rooster at LL Urban Farms in Raleigh makes sure everyone knows he’s at the top of the pecking order. The farm supplies hydroponic lettuce to Papa Spud’s.
By early Tuesday morning, employees are hustling to fill boxes at the 4,000-square-foot warehouse off of Cary Parkway. Deliveries are made on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Meyer is a strong believer in growing local businesses as well as the local food scene. Many of Papa Spud’s suppliers are small operations with a unique product.
“Everyone is just passionate about what they do,” Meyer said. “Often we’re working with the owner or someone else who is very dedicated. …You also get a lot of creativity out of people. They’re not producing for the mass market, so they can be more creative.”
The Carolina Market – Lots of Choice
Online grocery service The Carolina Market has been attracting more customers in the Triangle. One big selling point for the company is the sheer number of regional, sustainable products available. The company, formerly known as Carolina Grown, offers more than 600 items, including seafood, sourced mostly from North Carolina.
Chris Carpenter fills customer orders for N.C. meats at the start of an assembly line at The Carolina Market warehouse in Sanford.
“We are truly an online grocery store, short of paper products,” said co-owner David Welsh, who lives in Raleigh. “From sky to land to sea, we handle basically everything that you would like to have. So we are completely a food company, not necessarily a produce company or an organic produce company.”
In 2010, founder Joseph Allen, who used to work at FedEx, started the company in Fayetteville. With a warehouse in Sanford, the company now serves about 2,000 customers throughout the state including more than 1,200 in the Triangle.
The Carolina Market is known for N.C. seafood, meat, dairy and eggs. The owners see the company as an online grocery store competing with Whole Foods or other specialty food stores.
Unlike some other services, you don’t have to become a member to use the service, but you do have to pay a delivery fee every time you order. Members get free delivery and are eligible for discounts and other perks.
The company prides itself on what Welsh calls the “uber-freshness” of its products. Products are delivered to customers within two days of harvesting. Even during the heat of summer, special packaging keeps food cold on the front stoop until you get home, he says.
“There is such a heightened awareness of what you’re putting in your body,” said Welsh.
The Carolina Market co-owners Joseph Allen, left, and David Welsh assist Sarah van Steen loading customized food orders for delivery.
“Now you’ve got demand for the most pure, and that’s what we focus on – the least processed product possible.”
Interested in Local Food?
Other businesses — including farmers markets — that grow, make or sell local foods can be found here:
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