Female Entrepreneur Takes The Lead In The Race For Online Groceries

img_1418.jpg

The race for dominance among Bay Area grocery delivery companies is starting to heat up, and LolaBee's is in the front of the pack. By Michelle Paratore (Founder, Edible Startups)

In spite of the death of Webvan in 2001, the world of online grocery delivery has been slowly creaking back to life. The explosion of CSAs in the late 2000s brought fresh produce to the doorsteps of thousands of Bay Area residents. Now, dozens of companies are popping up to combine the CSA model of weekly box delivery with a grocery store-like shopping experience and flexibility.

We’re heading towards (or returning to) a world where Bay Area residents (and beyond) could realistically substitute grocery shopping with online delivery. The outstanding questions: Which startups will win share in this burgeoning market?

Fixing The Food System

My favorite contender is LolaBee’s Harvest. Founder Lauren Bass completed her MBA at Kellogg in 2010, but entered business school knowing she wanted to start a food business. She came up with the idea for LolaBee’s at Kellogg and wrote the business there. After graduating, she moved to San Francisco to build her business.

Says Lauren, “I grew up on a horse farm and have always loved animals. My concern for animal welfare drove me to research and educate myself about the food system. I read Omnivore’s Dilemma and realized I wanted to be part of the movement to improve the food system. I saw the growth and potential in the CSA model but I also saw the challenges that consumers were facing in fitting CSAs into their regular lifestyles. I knew that most farmers didn’t have the resources to customize their CSA programs to fit more naturally into people’s lives. Our goal here at LolaBee’s is to bring the CSA model to a larger audience and make it fit seamlessly into customers’ daily food rituals.”

LolaBee’s Harvest is an online farmers market and food delivery service. It sources local organic produce, local organic dairy, pastured meats, poultry and eggs, sustainable seafood, and cheeses, snacks, baby food, and prepared foods from Bay Area artisans. Customers create a free account and place customized orders weekly for home delivery on Thursdays in an insulated, reusable tote, which keeps food fresh for over 15 hours. If a customer doesn’t have time to put in their order, they receive the LolaBee’s Harvest Box, a best-of-season collection of half fruits and half veggies.

Not Just Customers, Diehard Advocates

What makes LolaBee’s stand out is Lauren and her team’s dedication to exceptional customer service. LolaBee’s does not have just customers, it has diehard brand advocates. Peruse the Yelp page and you see “I can’t stop telling anyone who will listen how amazing Lolabee’s is,” and “I can go on and on about how wonderful this company is, but it’s best if you check it out for yourselves.” The scope and depth of the praise is seriously impressive.

A Family Affair

And she’s doing it with a small team. She officially launched the business alone in November 2011, and quickly enlisted her mom to help her. Entrepreneurship runs in Lauren’s family. Both her parents owned their own businesses and Lauren grew up helping her mom, Debbie Bass, with one of the family businesses: Maypine Farm, a horse farm and education center.

Lauren explains her reasoning behind involving her mom, “having worked for my mom’s business growing up and for six years after college, we learned to work together really well. There’s no one I would trust more than my mom to help me make LolaBee’s a success. I’m so fortunate to have the support of my parents and their decades of experience and priceless advice to guide me through the tough journey of starting a business from scratch and growing it one farmer, one apple and one delivery at a time.”

In addition to Lauren and her mom, operations manager Kelvin Chao joined the team in August of 2012 and plays a crucial role in managing supplier relationships, customer communications, fulfillment, and warehouse operations.

Easier… And Cheaper

What also becomes clear from the Yelp reviews is that customers are 1) needing to go to the grocery store less often and 2) saving money. As a picky eater myself who frequents Whole Foods at least three to four times a week, I wouldn’t be disappointed to reduce my number of WF visits, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a more cost effective way for me to purchase food of the same quality or better: farmers market quality. One customer notes her family of three is saving approximately $200 a month on groceries by using LolaBee’s and another has eliminated one or two weekly trips to Whole Foods.

For a service like this to fully replace Whole Foods in my weekly routine, it would need to offer a selection of prepared foods. The LolaBee’s online store currently offers fresh pasta, tamales and enchiladas, and couscous and hummus. Lauren is eagerly looking for other local artisans to add to her offering.

Other Players

Lauren is not alone in this market. Luke’s Local is a direct competitor, offering customizable boxes delivered to customers’ doorsteps. Lauren’s other main competitors did not start as direct competitors. Both Farmigo and Good Eggs entered the local food delivery market as technology platforms and have since expanded to include online customized shopping and delivery.

Competition is heating up in Bay Area grocery delivery, and I’m excited to see how it will develop. If you’re interested in trying LolaBee’s, use the code EdibleStartups for $20 off. Currently LolaBee’s delivers in San Francisco and will expand to the East Bay in early April.

This post was originally posted at Edible Startups. About the guest blogger: Michelle Paratore is the founder of Edible Startups, a blog covering innovation in the food world. She is also a co-leader of the Food Startups meetup group, an organization dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship in food, and a mentor for Local Food Lab, an incubator program for entrepreneurship in local food systems. Michelle is obsessed with food startups, food justice, food politics and food trends. Follow her on Twitter at @meeshyparatore

Women 2.0 readers: What food-related startups (or startup ideas) are you excited about? Let us know in the comments!