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Online groceries: How Winder Farms is changing the way we buy fresh food, pt. 1

Fresh food delivered on the doorstep from Winder Farms
Fresh food delivered on the doorstep from Winder Farms
Edward Simon

These days, many home cooks are torn between a rock and a hard place. They are too busy to constantly shop for fresh food and often times even too busy to cook a full meal. On the other hand, they want to supply their families with good, healthy foods and avoid fast food meals. Winder Farms has been finding solutions to this for 130 years and currently serves the Orange County area with an alternative to supermarket and farmer's market shopping. Mike Dutton, the CEO of Winder Farms, in an exclusive interview with the Examiner, discussed the trend towards home delivery of fresh foods, the move towards locally-sourced products and how cooks in Orange County are looking at new ways to keep their family enjoying good, fresh food.

A weeks supply of fresh produce delivered to your door from Winder Farms
Edward Simon

Mike began by saying, “I think what's happening now is that there are couple of trends working in Winder's favor. One is that there is a growing awareness of buying local and eating fresh and so consumers are looking for a better way to acquire those goods. In times past, if you would go to your grocery store and purchase lots of packaged goods and frozen items, it was easy to shop occasionally and always feed your family, whereas no, if you're trying to eat fresher and eat local, it's more convenient to have those products brought to you. I think that's one trend in our favor”.

He continued, “The second one is just a growing demand for online services. Now that people are buying so many goods, entertainment and media online that they're asking 'Why am I not shopping for my food this way?'. We've gotten better over the years by making that available on mobile devices and text messaging, better websites and interactive experiences so that customers now say, 'hey, I don't need to go to the store so that I can physically see the product that I'm getting. The online experience is good enough that I'm comfortable making my shopping purchases this way'”.

Winder Farms, although a national company, is dedicated to serving each local area as its own entity. “Our mission is to build healthy food communities, Mike explained. “What that means is as we move into a neighborhood, we want to make sure we are supporting the local agriculture that's already there and so we want to source things from local family farms and we want to source from local bakers. I think that's better for the local food economy, it's better for the environment; there's no reason to be shipping food all over America when in many places, particularly Orange County, you grow so much of it there. I just think that food is fresher when it's local and it's better for the community when you are buying local”.

Winder Farms is dedicated to forging connections to local growers and suppliers. Mike said, “Eighty percent of our products in Orange County are sourced within one hundred miles of Orange County. Also, if you look at our product SKU's, about fifty percent of our produce is organic. It's not all organic, all of it is all natural, we source organic where it makes sense, for example, we source all products that are considered on the 'Dirty Dozen', meaning the products you should absolutely buy organic, but in some cases it's just hard to find an organic option”.

Organic products have become a big buzz phrase in food circles. Mike went into detail about it, explaining what is important and what is not and how it is affected by what is available locally. “There's a lot of debate in food circles about what's more important. Is organic? Is local? There's a big focus on organics and what's happening is that oranges were being shipped in from Argentina into Orange County because there would be a large organic farmer in Argentina. People started thinking, 'what's my objective in buying organic?' Well, my objective is that I want to be better for the environment. If eating an orange that is grown two blocks away that is all natural, is that better for the environment than eating an orange that was grown in Argentina on an organic plant. And what people have determined is actually, if you care about the environment, local in many cases trumps organic”.

Mike continued, “The other benefit of organic is that you don't want non-organic material to enter your body. What people have done is said, 'OK, let's look at the produce people eat and identify the ones that are most important to eat organic. Apples are important, but oranges aren't. The reason for that is, with apples you eat the skin and oranges you peel it off. So the powers that be have said, 'these are the Dirty Dozen, meaning that if you can find these products grown organically, you should probably eat them organic. And then there's a whole host of products that doesn't really matter for your body whether you eat them organic or not”.

Winer Farms has found that it appeals to many different types of people. For some, the convenience of home delivery is the best part. For others, it is having food delivered on a regular schedule so it is one less thing the busy cook needs to think about. And another group, the creative cook, finds it a great way to try new items and recipes. Mike explained, “In any given month, we launch ten new products and so there's always something new to try. One of the things that people love is that we have a produce box which is all the fresh things that are in season right now. What consumers get in that is a variety of products, many of which they've never tried before. You'll get this root of a plant that you've never tried in a dish before, but what we're going to do is insert a recipe with that. We're going to describe what the plant is, how you cook it, what are some recipe options. This is a way to extend your food palate”.

Mike continued by saying, “Every week, when I get our produce box, I open it up, kind of look for the new things that I've never tried before. We had a ginger root in there recently, so I took the ginger and there was a smoothie recipe. I took the ginger, sliced it up and put it in my smoothie blender. I had a new experience, putting the ginger in there, which I never would have done before! That produce box has some of the staples that you would need on a regular basis all the time, but there is always something new and interesting, so I think that's appealing to foodies. The other thing would be that we only select the best products. We're not always going to be the cheapest, but we're going to err on the side of quality. If you want high quality produce, bakery items and dairy products, we're going to provide those for you”.

Mike summed up this portion of the interview by adding, “What we do is we say. 'our consumers are still going to go shop at a grocery store, because there are literally 50,000 items that you can purchase at a grocery store'. But what are the products that are fresh that you are going to demand every week? Those are going to be things like your produce, your dairy, your meats, your prepared meals, those are the kind of things that we are going to bring to your doorstep. And so if you think about what a family eats in a given week, they might have certain 'X' number gallons of milk, their cheese, their eggs and their lettuce, their apple and oranges for their kid's lunches, and all of these things, they are pretty consistent in their purchasing of those”.

Winder Farm's solution to shopping at the market is simple. Mike said, “We say, 'Let us bring those to you on a weekly basis'. You'll still shop at the grocery store, but those items that you run out of, we're going to bring them fresh to you every week. And that's just resonating, there's a place for online grocery shoppers as well, meaning that I can get all those 50,000 items from a grocery store as well, but those stores charge you a large delivery fee for that. What we say is, 'Hey, listen, we're going to have a very efficient route system, we're going to deliver these products in an economic way and get those fresh items delivered to you weekly”.

Next Saturday, in part two of the interview with Mike Dutton, the CEO of Winder Farms, Mike will talk about several types of cooks and families and how the home delivery concept can make their life easier and their food healthier and tastier. He will discuss ordering in Orange County and why it is important to support local growers. In addition, he'll talk about online trends and the food industry and how the internet is not just changing our purchasing style of books, software and videos, but revolutionizing the food industry too.