Farmer’s Fridge announced this week that its jars of salad are now on sale at Jewel-Osco stores in the Chicago, Illinois area. The news caught my eye because Farmer’s Fridge has up to know been most known for selling those fresh jars of salad through vending machines throughout the Midwest.
But the pandemic hit Farmer’s Fridge hard last year since its machines were set up in high-traffic areas. With fewer people going into offices or traveling, Farmer’s Fridge vending machines sat idle, and in March of last year, the company’s revenue dropped 85 percent. A Farmer’s Fridge company rep told me that as of now, the company has 160 machines active out of the 355 that are installed.
Farmer’s Fridge initially responded to the pandemic by quickly pivoting to home delivery in March of 2020. The company took out PPP loans, raised an additional $40 million in funding (bringing the total amount raised to $75 million) and now ships food nationwide. But since the start of the year, Farmer’s Fridge has been expanding its sales into retail outlets. In January, it started selling salads through Dunkin’ (who knew a trip to Dunkin’ could be healthy?). Then in March, Farmer’s Fridge started selling at 23 Target locations in the Chicago area. And now this week, Farmer’s Fridge salads are available at 18 Jewel-Osco supermarkets in the Chicago area.
The pandemic forced many grocers across the country to shut down salad bars and look for alternatives that didn’t involve trays of food sitting out all day and communal utensils. Some adopted Chowbotics’s Sally robot, which makes customized salads on-demand. But its easy to see how the jars of fresh salad from Farmer’s Fridge could also be used to make up for lost salad bar revenue.
Interest in vending machines has accelerated over the past year, driven in part by the pandemic. Vending machines offer contactless food delivery, don’t require much space and can operate 24 hours a day. But with the success of its home delivery and now growing retail presence, we reached out to Farmer’s Fridge to find out what role vending machines would continue to play for the company. A company rep emailed us the following statement:
Fridges will continue to be a core part of our business, as they currently generate 40 to 50 percent of our revenue. We are experiencing strong growth in retail and delivery, and these additional channels played a critical role in helping us exceed pre-pandemic revenue numbers.
It’s not hard to imagine Farmer’s Fridge vending machines making an even bigger comeback post-pandemic. Airports, offices and colleges will all be looking for ways to create food experiences that don’t involve as much human-to-human interaction. Farmer’s Fridge fits that bill, and now thanks to delivery and retail, has more options than ever should another downturn occur.