has expanded its presence in southeastern Wisconsin with home delivery of its fresh, ready-made meals.
The Chicago-based startup, which launched in 2013, has fresh food vending machines in offices, university buildings, hospitals and airports across the greater Chicago area, Milwaukee
, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, New York City and parts of New Jersey.
When the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out 85% of its business last March, Farmer's Fridge quickly shifted its model.
"We have these delivery drivers, we make food that's really good, and there's a lot more people looking to eat at home, and the options are still hard to get -- why don't we try to launch a delivery program?" said Luke Saunders, founder, recalling early conversations. "Everybody recognized that it was going to be the difference between being able to survive whatever happened next and not."
Over the course of a weekend, the company set up a website through Shopify, and within eight weeks, the new service was up and running across the Chicago area. One year later, Farmer's Fridge expanded home delivery to a second market, Milwaukee. The service is now available in 17 states, including most of Wisconsin.
Customers can order freshly made salads, grain bowls, heat-able entrees, breakfast bowls, wraps and snacks, as well as a new dish from nationally acclaimed chef Rick Bayless, through the Farmer's Fridge app or website
. For Milwaukee-area residents, orders are shipped by the box and delivered via UPS, at a shipping cost of $7.95 per box. Customers must fill their box with a minimum number of items to place an order.
Prior to the pandemic, Farmer's Fridge had grown to about 40 vending machines in the Milwaukee area. Today, 12 of those fridge locations are currently stocked, including Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport, UW-Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Brewers front office, VA Medical Center and several Aurora hospital locations.
Saunders said there's still a ways to go before fridge locations in Milwaukee-area office buildings can fully reopen, but the grab-n-go concept remains relevant in the current environment.
"The fridges end up being a really good fit in an environment where you've got to be more flexible on demand," said Saunders. "We're able to handle that fluctuation and the lower traffic. That's always been our goal -- we're trying to put fridges in places where it wouldn't make sense to put a restaurant."
And as professionals gradually return to the office, likely with more work flexibility, the need for home delivery will remain.
"We're expecting 60% of the pre-pandemic traffic in a downtown office environment ... that dynamic means that there's just more opportunity for eating at home and we fit that occasion really well," he said.