Relaunching a Local Produce Business

In case you’re unaware (and you should be, because almost no one reads this blog — yet), I used to run a local produce business where I grew and sold microgreens to high-end restaurants. I stopped to focus on GreatMate, a technology startup that my cofounder and I got some funding for. After that, I worked at Book in a Box for 18 months.

And now I’m back to build up the local produce business once again.

And it’s going to be harder this time.

Last time, the competitive landscape looked like this:

  • Huge microgreens producer that goes through a distributor and also services outside of San Diego
  • Diversified organic farm that has microgreens and shoots as part of their business, but mostly direct to consumers

There is an obvious gap here: If I specialized in microgreens and San Diego, I could beat both competitors in the space.

The huge producer couldn’t compete on a local scale, especially when going through a distributor. The market would be too small for them to be able to divert much of their energy to. The diversified organic farm couldn’t compete on a crop level, because they have so many other crops they grow at the same time.

Now, the competitive landscape looks like this:

  • Huge microgreens producer that goes through a distributor and also services outside of San Diego
  • Diversified organic farm that has microgreens and shoots as part of their business, but mostly direct to consumers
  • Small microgreens-only producer that services San Diego only

Notice the change? Look what happened in the three years since I started (and closed) that business. A replica of my model came up and looks to be doing well.

So, why would I still try to get into this business?

A few reasons:

  1. It’s extremely low-cost in both time and money to test
  2. I think I can execute better than the competitor
  3. I have a location advantage on my competitor

San Diego is a large city that stretches out along the coastline. I’m close to the city center, while they’re up north. This means I can get my greens to restaurants quicker, cheaper, and be more responsive to the needs of my chefs and restaurants. I can also plug myself in to the local scene much easier due to my life circumstances.

So, What’s the Plan?

I’ll leave the details of growing microgreens out because that’s not the focus of this site. Instead, let’s look at the strategy of launching and rapidly testing this business:

Sample trays of a variety of microgreens are planted and rigorously tracked in a Google Sheet

I’ll get into this later if there is interest.

Use Fancy Hands to build a list of restaurants from Yelp.

I filter for $$-$$$$ restaurants to increase the likelihood that they can both pay for and actually use microgreens. I also filtered for neighborhoods and distance, and instructed Fancy Hands to send me a Google Sheet with:

  • Restaurant Name
  • Website
  • Neighborhood
  • Address

Use Fancy Hands again to get the chef’s name and bio for each restaurant.

This is important because your relationship with the chefs is everything. They make the buying decisions, so going in knowing everything about them is just good business.

Package up the sample trays, plot a course for the day, and hit the streets.

This is where the hustle comes in. Last time I did this I was a complete novice to offline businesses, but I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot and my confidence has grown in the last three years. I’ll be hitting a basket of restaurants each day from 2-3pm, when they’re least busy.

If this interests you, leave a comment and let me know what you’d like me to cover in future updates!

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