These days, the forms of, rituals around, and vehicles by which food is presented are changing. And the new game is fun. Whether that be in your favorite haunt, traditional brick-and-mortar store, pop-up restaurant, food truck, or vending machine—yes, vending machine—the scene can be as elaborate as a six-course spread or as compact as a mason jar packed at home in your own fridge.
But, if you are doing it fresh and on-the-go, the set of challenges are not only great opportunities, they are spaces to create innovative solutions. One company putting fresh convenience to the test is Farmer’s Fridge, a concept that is showcasing public and private automated smart fridges in locations from hospitals and colleges to corporate headquarters and airports across Illinois and Wisconsin. Not only am I racing down the C terminal at Chicago O’ Hare trying to catch a flight, but I am putting a chef-curated meal or snack in my hands in seconds.
“We adapt our menu based on the seasons and source accordingly.”
–Luke Saunders, Founder, Farmer’s Fridge
What a concept, if you ask me. While I am sitting patiently out in California waiting for the program to expand, I thought I would ask the company’s Founder, Luke Saunders, what origin story set the wheels in motion for this clever platform, and what motivated his team to create such a unique and delicious way to bite on-the-go.
“I founded the company back in 2013 as I was regularly challenged by finding fresh food on the road during my years as a traveling salesman,” he shares with me. Applying his entrepreneurial mindset to problem-solving, Luke arrived at the concept for Farmer's Fridge: Good health starts with what we eat, and eating well shouldn’t be hard.
Luke set out to build a disruptive yet simple way to make fresh, healthy food as accessible as a candy bar. And with better options—from salads, wraps, and soups to bowls, sandwiches, proteins, snacks, and drinks—I guess you could have that six-course meal after all.
Convenience has become such a necessity in today's culture, yet at times that desire comes into combat with access to healthy options. So, I definitely understand his ethos.
“For Farmer's Fridge, there's no compromise,” Luke tells me. “We understand convenience is key, so we set out to make fresh, healthy meals more convenient than unhealthy alternatives.”
Again, as a California girl who mostly experiences the Midwest these days during my trade show travels, I lean into the question of expansion. Even with the competition between retail, foodservice, and meal kits, I still value my choices.
“Currently, we have 200 locations across Chicago and Milwaukee, and counting. It is an exciting time to be bringing something new to the marketplace with a unique strategy to ensure quality and differentiation,” Luke says with a pause. “The company is currently working through expansion plans, with the ultimate goal of having a national presence to make fresh, healthy food accessible to all.”
One of the big questions out there when it comes to unique fresh formats is what that company’s supply chain looks like, and how they build those relationships. Farmer's Fridge works directly with suppliers to source high-quality ingredients, with an emphasis on local products whenever possible, including Mighty Vine Tomatoes, Carr Valley Cheese from Wisconsin, and fruit from Michigan.
“We adapt our menu based on the seasons and source accordingly. We also partner with small purveyors and large distributors to ensure we source the best ingredients that meet our rigorous food safety standards,” Luke adds.
Farmer's Fridge is also a customer-centric company, so the team continues building its value and presence with feedback—everything starts with customer requests and open dialogue. The company also has a skilled culinary team that digests the feedback and develops delicious, nutritious recipes. The recipes are then tested and continuously improved to provide the best experience possible.
A perk to warm you as we enter the new year? Unpurchased food is regularly donated to community members in need.
If you ask the team behind Farmer’s Fridge what brings them great joy to the tummy, heart, and soul, they will tell you that happiness starts in your stomach.