Every week, trucks carrying fruit and vegetables deliver a variety of produce to Zac Mitton’s house, which he and friend John Geary organize into half-bushel boxes and deliver to customers between the North Shore and Chicago. This is the basic function of the Delivery Produce Company, which Mitton and Geary began a year ago in Northbrook.
“Zac and I have been friends since junior high, and believe it or not, this isn’t the first thing we’ve talked about,” said Geary, 27, a Glenbrook North alumnus who works in advertising by day. “You can make money a lot of ways, and with this we really believe we’re providing a valuable service.”
A community-supported agriculture program Geary’s mother subscribed to inspired their business model, which they say is already profitable. In a CSA, people invest in a farm’s anticipated harvest, then receive shares of food throughout the season. It’s a shared-risk model between consumers and farmers, whose outcome fluctuates based on a season’s harvest.
Geary and Mitton say they’re passionate about promoting healthy eating habits, and sought to improve the CSA model by offering customers the benefits of fresh produce without the risk of a farm’s potentially unpredictable harvest.
“You usually have to pay a few hundred dollars up front in the beginning of the year [in a CSA program], which is kind of a pain,” said Mitton, 27, a GBN alum who works on the Delivery Produce Company full time. He says DPC managed to “remove the barrier of entry” for people seeking locally-grown, organic produce, by offering a program where “you sign up and you receive a box and you just pay per box.”
Customers sign up for DPC boxes through their website, which offers weekly or twice a month deliveries. Starting Friday, Aug. 3, the company will make deliveries between Fridays and Sundays, based on customer preference. Their service goes as far North as Lake Forest, south to Oak Park, west to Wheeling, and the entire Chicago-land area in between. People must sign up by 11:59 p.m. Thursday to receive a box that weekend.
The contents of a box vary each week, but include staple produce and unusual items. Although the company uses Facebook to preview that week’s box, the nature of their business model makes catering to individual demands very difficult.
“We had a customer tell us one time, ‘I don’t like purple things,’” Geary said. “It’s not exactly a surprise package, but it’s not like when you go to the store and pick out exactly what you want. I guess it’s not for everybody.”
“We try to stick to standard things that people would eat,” Mitton said. “Once in a while we’ll throw in a weird thing and a lot of times people really like it, like kiwi berries.”
The content of a box depends on the farms DPC works with on a given week, what’s ripe and what’s in season. During warm months, DPC sells produce from Midwestern farms who use organic growing methods. In the winter, they get deliveries from certified organic farms in warm states such as California.
Geary said the decision to buy from non-certified organic farms was inspired by feedback from customers who “would rather have it be local and kind of know where it’s coming from, more so than have it be certified organic but it’s from Texas.”
Not only has the company made certain changes to its business model over the last year, it has also grown. They’re moving operations out of Mitton’s garage to a small warehouse in Lake Bluff. They’re increasing service frequency and eventually hope to launch a smartphone app that will give customers more information and control over shipments.
“We are profitable but most of our profit we’re putting back into the business to grow,” Geary said. “It was also something that didn’t take a whole lot of start-up capital, it was something we could do just with our own capabilities, we didn’t need to have somebody invest $100,000 to buy equipment or do whatever, we really kind of built this from very little with our bootstraps or whatever they say.”
Added Mittion, “To me if a business can make money in an honest way, not only does that help the owner of the business, but it also means there’s a reason for the business to exist.”