All across the country Americans are sheltering in place with trips out filled with trepidation. As such, it is no surprise that meal delivery companies, like Blue Apron, Home Chef and HelloFresh are reporting an uptick in business and fielding many more calls and hits on their websites.
Sun Basket Inc., a California-based meal delivery firm specializing in organics, is no exception. CEO Don Barnett recently told The Produce News that there has been an acceleration in business for his firm as well as all the rest in the meal delivery space. But he noted that ramping up to meet the demand is not easily accomplished. “The shelter-in-place orders have definitely led to a spike in our business,” he said in late March. “Over the last two weeks we have seen a lot more business. We haven’t reached our capacity yet but we are getting close.”
Barnett said Sun Basket, which is driven by the data it has accumulated, has a growth model curve that informs its rate of expansion. “None of us in this business operate with a lot of extra capacity,” he said, noting that it is not good business to grow your capacity faster than your client base.
So while the company is happy for the increase in orders, it is scrambling to create solutions to fill those orders. Barnet is reaching out to food distribution companies that specialize in the foodservice arena in an effort to access workers that might otherwise be laid off or furloughed. These workers have foodservice experience and currently the companies have had to deal with a massive decline in orders because of the closure of restaurants, schools and company cafeterias. “We are partnering with one company that has 750 workers,” he said. “We are working with them on a short-term basis. That should help the foodservice company keep his business going and allow us to add capacity. It’s little things like this that we all need to do to be good citizens in this time of crisis.”
Concerning the nuts and bolts of his business, Barnett said that as of late March Sun Basket has not experienced any problems with the supply chain or with distributing the meals to their customers. Sun Basket offers many different meal options every day and can easily pivot from one item to another if the menued item is in short supply.
Speaking of the meal delivery business in general, he said the COVID-19 crisis is giving it a boost and will introduce the concept to new people, some of whom will become regular customers. But Barnett described the business sector as one that is “maturing.” He added that the start-ups that entered the meal delivery arena without a good business model have started to drop out leaving the sector in the hands of fewer competitors. With its focus on organic fruit and vegetables and “clean” meats, Sun Basket has positioned itself near the upper end of the space, which the CEO believes will allow it to survive the economic downturn that is expected to accompany the coronavirus pandemic.