Austin's Greenling Brings Food to the Door, Lets You Handle the Rest

By Trevor Gilbert , written on May 30, 2012

From The News Desk

Every once in awhile, you come across a company that is solving a pain point that you never knew existed. Austin-based Greenling is one of those companies. Greenling delivers fresh produce, meat, dairy and just about any other grocery items to your house on a subscription basis, fresh from the farm.

After all, I’d never even need to leave my house at all, if I didn’t need to go to the grocery store (a blogger’s dream!)

A quick visit to Greenling’s website allows customers to sign up to receive a box of food on a regular schedule. They offer predetermined boxes or the option to customize a box.

For example, there is an option for a vegan box, that costs $35 and has everything from tomatoes, to peaches, to kale, to cucumbers. Want more kale and don’t want any peaches? Just customize a box depending on your likes and dislikes.

There is also the option to receive meal-boxes with recipes included. These boxes are the ones that I would personally find most useful. My typical routine for eating is to look up recipes for dinner around the time that I’m really hungry, meaning that I end up going to some Mexican restaurant instead of waiting 30-45 minutes to decide what to make and then actually make it. These meal boxes come with a recipe and all of the fresh ingredients needed to serve two people.

Once a customer has put together a box of meats, produce, bread, milk, and nearly any other grocery items they need, the order is sent to ready for packaging by the company.

At the packaging facility – it’s very cold in there, to keep the food fresh longer – the team is hard at work organizing boxes, packing them onto trucks, and taking in bulk delivery orders from larger farms. Nearly every order is unique, and the team processes each by hand.

During shipping, the food is stored in specialty crates and transported in delivery vans that are temperature controlled. Because of Greenling's produce storage system, the food can be left outdoors in the heat on someone’s porch for up to four hours without spoiling. This makes scheduling deliveries much more flexible for customers.

While the food ordering and delivery process is key to the company’s success, there is also a focus on building up healthy relationships. The company focuses on integrity and never doing anything to hurt the customer or the farmer. This is in part because not lying to customers is generally a good business strategy, and in part because it replicates the experience of going to your locally-owned neighborhood grocery store.

On the farmers’ side, building relationships is just as important. “When the drought hit last year, we were the only ones with fresh, local produce,” says Greenling founder Mason Arnold. “No other local store had anything," because the relationship wasn’t with the farmer individually, but instead with "the farmers" as a faceless group. Because of the focus on building a relationship with individual farmers from the beginning, Greenling was able to get the food and supplies that even the larger grocery chains couldn’t purchase.

This focus on integrity has paid off for the company. It now has thousands of customers in Texas, and is planning on rolling out slowly around the country. The next state is likely to be Florida, as it also has a strong agricultural base, combined with a large population.

After that, the company is still evaluating its options, but it does want to expand around the country. It’s harder to scale than any most other web companies, but not impossible.

One potential issue with this business model is that it has been tried before in a different era, and has failed spectacularly. Looking at startups from the dot-com era, like and Webvans, the delivery grocery model isn’t a guaranateed success. However, there is one key difference for these types of services between now and then.

Today, the population density of people that use the Internet and are willing to use services like this is dramatically higher. This means that when servicing an area with a 100-mile radius, the number of potential customers is much larger. For a physical, revenue-centric business like this, it makes a world of difference.

At the same time, Greenling isn’t the only company trying its hand at this. Amazon has been testing a grocery delivery service locally in the Seattle-area. There are also other smaller startups servicing local areas like FreshDirect, for the greater New York area. It will be interesting to watch this space as all of these companies start to expand their services across the nation, and finally begin competing with each other for the same markets.

Right now, though, Arnold and the team are truly focused on keeping the customer happy and growing the business. It may sound old-fashioned and cliche, but more than that, it is refreshing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a grocery store only to find myself being treated rudely, in a dirty store.

If I can skip the store experience, and at the same time, be treated how a customer should be treated, then I’m all in.