Like many entrepreneurial companies Farmer’s Fridge had to dramatically adjust our business during the pandemic. Our primary distribution channel is vending machines that dispense fresh food in locations such as hospitals and airports, and when COVID-19 hit, we moved to reduce prices for our healthcare customers, while trying new form factors and distribution channels. (You can read more about our story here). It has not been an easy transition, but we are on track to double our pre-pandemic revenue this year as a result of the team’s hard work.
While many companies talk about “pivoting” their business, I would argue that we didn’t change course so much as accelerate our mission by quickly responding to our customers and would-be clients’ needs.
If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that the market is constantly evolving. The question is how to lean into product market fit—meeting current market demand—even as your company works to evolve to meet changing conditions. Here are three steps we followed to help us achieve that balance:
Step one: Define your mission
This is by far the hardest step and can often take years, but setting the right “north star” is the most important step to building anything great. You may have lots of twists and turns along the way, but if you have properly defined your “north star” then you can always rely on that to keep you on track.
At Farmer’s Fridge, I started with a pretty simple idea. I wanted to make healthy food more accessible by putting restaurant quality salads and fresh food in a vending machine, making it less expensive and more convenient to eat healthy. A few months in, we had some traction with customers and a major retailer called me and asked if I could put a machine in its store. I could not understand why this big player would want to partner with a tiny company operating out of a shared kitchen on the west side of Chicago, but I soon realized that our real potential was to apply technology and a direct relationship with customers to transform the fresh food supply chain. This insight changed the course of our business because I realized that the real innovation would be leveraging new technologies to make high quality, low cost fresh food convenient at scale for the first time. In short, we were building a completely new supply chain around a product instead of trying to fit our product through the existing supply chain.
Step two: Define what must be true
There must be some things about your company that are nonnegotiables. For example, only selling food from a vending machine is not on our list of nonnegotiables, but ensuring that our food is safe is at the top of the list. Identifying what the nonnegotiables for your business are is an essential step for making sure new information doesn’t take you off course. For Farmer’s Fridge, we defined these as SQUAD goals.
World class food Safety program
#1 in Quality to value
A personal relationship with customers
Demonstrated health outcome
The idea is that these five things must be true if we truly want to reinvent the fresh food supply chain.
Step three: Listen and evaluate against the frameworks you have built
It’s time to put this into practice. Let’s use our expansion into retail as an example of how we worked through this with a recent 2021 decision to begin selling our product through retail partners like Target, grocery chain Jewel-Osco and delivery service Gopuff.
First, we asked: is this still true to the core of what we do, our mission? Yes, we would be making fresh, healthy food more accessible.
Next, does selling in retail violate any nonnegotiables? Nope, it does not. It’s still the same convenient, tasty product at a great value.
Do we have a right to win in the retail space? Yes, we’ve built economies of scale through our Fridge channel and are selling the same products in stores using the same distribution network. This means that someone else trying to sell the exact same product would always be lower quality and not as good a value. We also have the brand recognition built through the Fridge and delivery channels that gives us even greater leverage.
A lot of people have expressed shock at our pivot during the pandemic to home delivery and retail, and if I had thought of Farmer’s Fridge as that salad machine vending company, I would have been shocked too. But that’s not how we thought of ourselves. Internally, we were marching towards using new technology to rebuild the fresh food supply chain. While it wasn’t easy, it also would have been more challenging to adapt if we hadn’t had such a clear sense of our mission. By defining who you really are, it allows you to be flexible but stay focused as you pursue growth.