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New trend in online grocery shopping: farm-to-fridge

Published 1:00 am, Sunday, March 30, 2014

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  • Mimi Shalhoub carries in her ready-to-cook dinner kits from Plated.com Tuesday, Mar. 25, 2014, at her home in Fairfield, Conn. The box, delivered right to her door, contains everything needed to prepare a gourmet meal. Photo: Autumn Driscoll / Connecticut Post
    Mimi Shalhoub carries in her ready-to-cook dinner kits from Plated.com Tuesday, Mar. 25, 2014, at her home in Fairfield, Conn. The box, delivered right to her door, contains everything needed to prepare a gourmet meal. Photo: Autumn Driscoll

 

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Farm-to-fridge delivery services are the newest concept in online grocery delivery, bringing farm fresh products to your doorstep without your having to change out of your pajamas.

Think farmer's market meets Peapod.

Benefiting farmers and customers alike, these companies give small-time farmers another outlet to sell their goods and put farmers' products in the hands of those who wouldn't otherwise make the drive to the farms themselves.

Graze, a weekly farm-to-fridge online delivery service bringing fresh, sustainably produced foods directly from Vermont's family farms to Fairfield County, was developed in 2010 by Julianna Doherty, of Vermont along with Christy Colasurdo, of Westport.

Between produce, meat, dairy and cheese, Graze works with upwards of 35 to 40 farms in Vermont.

"For these farmers, we give them a new market and we give them a face. It's increasingly harder for the farmers to stay alive, and this helps them keep doing what they love and succeeding at it," Doherty said.

Starting with 30 weekly customers in Fairfield County in 2010, Graze has expanded to include Metro West communities of Boston, Vermont, and Westchester a weekly base of 450 to 500 customers per week.

Still, Fairfield County remains the biggest supplier of Graze customers.

The weekly farm-to-fridge deliveries can be ordered online at foodasitshouldbe.com by Thursday night at midnight. All Fairfield County orders are delivered by Monday morning.

In order to better manage the large quantity of weekly deliveries in Fairfield County, Graze has transitioned to using a local delivery service in Connecticut allowing them to move product more efficiently, ensuring that each customer receives their order by Monday morning before they leave for work.

Priced like Whole Foods

"People are so busy, that the convenience it provides is really important," Doherty said. "If someone can help you get a meal together but it's still the same ingredients you would have gone to the store to buy yourself, then you're not compromising anything, and the consumer will buy into the model by us not pricing it out of the ballpark."

Doherty said Graze's prices are comparable to Whole Foods.

Over the past two years, Graze has also started to offer a 10-week Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, with the option to extend the harvest to 16 weeks.

A 10-week CSA costs $390 and a 16-week CSA costs $624.

"Instead of working with a single farm for a CSA, we've partnered with 20 to 25 organic farms here in Vermont, so instead of getting three weeks of kale, you're getting a great variety of items from week-to-week," Doherty said.

She said about 50 percent of her business is selling fresh products like Monument Farms milk, Maple Meadow eggs, and Misty Knoll poultry straight from the barn, the other 50 percent has evolved into selling freshly prepared ready-to-serve and ready-to-cook dinner and lunch kits.

"We bring those products from the barn into our own commercial kitchen and put them into kits where people can easily make a lunch for themselves or their kids or have a dinner ready for their husband when he gets home without the hassle," Doherty said.

She said initially, Graze's dinner kits would consist of a steak with a potato for a side.

They have evolved into meals like Jamaican jerk chicken, sweet potato & chickpea Indian curry, and crock pot pasta fagioli with Maple Lane organic grass-fed ground beef.

Meal kits

"In our ready-to-cook kits, we measure that half-ounce of cayenne pepper for you, pre-cut the vegetables, de-vein the kale," Doherty said "What we realized was that while people wanted milk, and meat and cheese, but they wanted the convenience aspect too," she said. "The Misty Knolls chicken is amazing, but if you can put it into the kit where you can throw it into the crockpot and let it simmer all day so you come home to a dinner made, then that's even better." Crock pot dishes, lunch bundles and organic classic chocolate chip cookies are family favorites of Kristine Heslin, of Milford.

Heslin has been a Graze customer for two years ordering from the Vermont-based company about three times per month.

"Although, it does is not replace my entire week for grocery shopping, I find that it is able to provide my family with easy, healthy meals," she said. "This service is ideal for parents who work/busy and like to come home and provide a well-balanced meal for the family."

CT Farm Fresh Express, perhaps the first farm-to-door delivery service in the state opening six years ago this February, is a hybrid solution for people who may not have time to frequent farmers' markets and provides an off-season outlet of fresh products when most markets are closed.

Owned by Deb Marsden, the East Haddam-based company from four farmers with a dozen or so products and about eight customers to between 50 and 60 farms with over 2500 constantly changing seasonal products getting delivered to between 50 and 70 customers.

The company uses about five drivers to distribute product throughout the state, fostering farm-to-table connections that otherwise may not have been made.

Last year alone CT Farm Fresh Express moved $225,000 worth of product.

The online market is open between Thursday evenings until Tuesday at 10 a.m. during which time all orders are placed. Orders are then transmitted to vendors in order to pick up products on Wednesdays in time to deliver on Thursdays.

"I think that people are busy with their lives, work and children that they run all over the place. They want to eat healthier and know that local is the freshest and best for themselves and their families, but don't necessarily have time to run to farmers markets to buy the fresh foods," Marsden said. "Not every market will have all the selection our product that we provide, they might have to go to several markets to find what they can at ctfarmfreshstore.com and never leave their home."

No guesswork

Going way beyond the typical Chinese or pizza deliveries of yesteryear, there are now companies that specialize in taking the guess work out of cooking and deliver all the makings for a gourmet meal at your front door.

Larger, national delivery companies like Blue Apron, HelloFresh and Plated target busy consumers, who would ideally like to cook at home but do not always have time to fight crowds at the grocery store each week, and desire something a little more wholesome than General Tso's Chicken.

With precisely measured ingredients and step-by-step instructions, the ready-to-cook meals eliminate food waste and help making cooking fit into hectic schedules.

Plated, a food delivery service, compiles gourmet recipes like pistachio-crusted tofu with roasted carrot frisee salad, and delivers all of the ingredients necessary from meats to vegetables to spices to cook a home-made meal at home in 30 minutes or less.

Designed to incorporate a range of cooking techniques and exotic ingredients like ground sumac, Plated aims to educate and inspire both the skilled and novice chef in a fun, convenient way.

The company's self-description of their process is: "You choose. We shop. You cook." " Plated works because it allows even busy consumers to cook dinner at home and avoid the "takeout rut" that a lot of us find ourselves in. When customers order meals from Plated, they eliminate the hassles of recipe hunting and grocery shopping, leaving only the most fun part--the cooking," said Jared Levan, Plated's customer experience director.

Levan said many have become disconnected from their food leaving many to rely on takeout as the easiest way to eat without much hassle.

He said there has recently been a turnaround in the way people think about food, resulting in an increase of home delivery services like Plated.

"Americans are starting to realize that that just isn't the healthy, or the most cost-effective, way to go and we know they want better," he said.

Delivering chef-inspired meals with restaurant-quality ingredients, Plated offers customers a choice of seven recipes each week including three vegetarian and four non-vegetarian options.

Each Monday, Plated offers a new menu and customers have until noon the following Monday to order for delivery on Tuesday.

Customers can then choose how many people they would like to cook for, whether they are cooking for two or dinner parties of 10 people or more.

Compared to dining out or ordering takeout, Levan said Plated's portions cost less. And, he added, each recipe averages between 600 and 800 calories per plate void of preservatives or processed foods.

"When you're cooking with Plated, you also have zero wasted food, something you won't see when you try to follow a recipe with ingredients from the grocery store; you may only need a small amount of a handful of ingredients but you're forced to buy an entire container. With Plated, everything is pre-measured so you know what you get is all you'll need and nothing more," he said.

Makayla Silva is a freelance writer. Makayla.Silva@gmail.com