The Challenge

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How might we better connect food production and consumption? read the brief

Idea

Convenient CSA Meal Subscriptions

Want to eat fresh food from your local farm, but worried about figuring out how to use the mystery box of produce that arrives weekly with your typical CSA (community supported agriculture) share (and which you often have to supplement with additional grocery shopping trips)? CSA Meal Subscriptions combine the fresh taste, organic health, and delightful surprise of local food with the convenience of ready-made meals. And on top of that, you’re supporting regional agriculture while minimizing environmentally harmful food miles.
We provide 3 packaging options for your meal subscription:

1) “Master Chef”: Your produce arrives whole and intact, ready for your culinary genius. Suggested recipe options (of varying complexity) are provided.

2) "Convenience Cook": Your ingredients arrive pre-measured, pre-cut, and with simple step-by-step instructions. It’s like having a personal cooking prep assistant.

3) "Busy Diner": Your fresh meals arrive pre-cooked and ready to eat in reusable containers. Simply pop them in the oven or microwave, bring them to warm up at work or school, or store them in your fridge for future use.

GETTING STARTED: To sign up online, you simply choose your packaging option, food preferences (i.e. vegetarian, food allergies, etc.), the # of meals you need in a week, the # of people eating each meal, and weekly drop off location of your choice (including your home or work). During delivery by our electric-powered refrigerated truck fleet, containers are also collected for reuse and organic scraps are picked up for composting.

GROUP DISCOUNTS: We provide volume discounts and group payment options for joint deliveries, so you can group together to share the bounty and better value. You can get together with your neighbors or apartment building, your church could pool together to distribute deliveries after worship, your school’s Parent Teacher’s Association could organize after-school pickups (when parents are picking up their kids), or your communal kitchen could subscribe for its members to prepare meals together.

ONLINE RESOURCES: And you can use our online directory/mapping to add and search for current groups and individuals looking to join groups, as well as learn more about the farms and farmers that grew your produce (including scheduling visits for say picking your own fruit or buying direct), nutritional & growing info, etc.

FUTURE CONVENIENCE: As local food becomes the norm, we also plan to provide CSA Meal vending machines (& container/organic scrap collection points) in convenient places you already visit like subway stations. The graphics & information on these vending machines will also further spread awareness and knowledge about local food.

Brought to you by your local organic farmers’ cooperative and the chef of **top-rated area restaurant that sources from these farms**.


Note: this is a concept, and as far as I know, not a pre-existing business. Also, though these ready-made packages can also be provided through supermarkets (as a large pre-existing channel), by delivering more directly to consumers the farmer can receive more of the profits, consumers may benefit from lower prices, and the direct matching of supply and demand minimizes food waste. At scale, this can also result in a lower carbon footprint across the total delivery chain.


Image Attributions: Salad To Go (http://www.flickr.com/photos/judybaxter/14946691/), Prepped Ingredients (http://www.flickr.com/photos/darren/2592957509/), Whole Produce (http://www.flickr.com/photos/joygantic/2060552026/)

Comments

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Paul Wiesler

April 28, 2011, 05:06AM
I like supporting csa meal subscriptions, but i dislike the pre-cooked meal options. By offering a local delivered meal service, you may not be expanding your market. I'm wary that focusing on these types of luxury goods is putting local foods into a "premium goods"box that would prevent them from becoming an option for the average consumer.

Vincent Cheng

April 28, 2011, 10:32AM
Thanks for your comment Paul. Agreed that it would be dangerous to just put local foods into a premium goods box and thus limit its availability to the average consumer.

That's why this concept provides multiple choices including the most economical option of simply receiving whole intact produce with suggested recipes ("master chef").

By providing multiple options we can 1) make sure community supported agriculture is most broadly accessible to people of varying needs (from the value-conscious student to the busy professional), 2) gradually ease people into more involved options (from "busy diner" to "convenience cook" to "master chef"), and 3) produce the scale needed to create a more sustainable service (i.e. the more meal subscriptions delivered per neighborhood, the lower the environmental & financial cost associated with serving each customer).

Michael Stillwell

April 24, 2011, 18:27PM
Hiya, I made a similar concept (delivery of the ingredients necessary to product an entire meal) without realising this existed. See

http://openideo.com/open/localfood/concepting/-groupon-for-meals-order-online-get-the-ingredients-delivered-in-a-week-/

The differences relate mostly to marketing and bootstrapping the business--I was going more for the premium/fine food/dinner party with friends angle as the initial product, rather than everyday meals.

Vincent Cheng

April 25, 2011, 15:25PM
Thanks Michael for linking our related concepts up. Agreed that it's important to have a bootstrapping plan & that the premium customer is one of the groups that should be targeted.

Lauren Dellaquila

April 23, 2011, 20:41PM
Hey Vincent. You're right that our concepts could compliment each other. You're definitely covering a wider gamut in regards to food issues. One of my goals was to appeal to the general consumer, with no knowledge of CSA's, the benefits of localization or even health benefits, and get them interested through low cost and convenience.

I do think your idea could be successful, I just wish it's success (like mine would) didn't hinge on the american value of speed and convenience. My German roommate in college constantly teased me for eating in my car and traveling with my food; rightly so. It would be nice to slowly transform the idea of eating into a long term investment that requires more thought than what the public is giving it now.

Maybe the "Busy Diner" could be a large promotion at the launch of this project to cast a wide net of potential consumers, but eventually becomes less emphasized in your marketing plan. Also, if it were discouraged by slowly hiking the price of the meal and lowering the cost of the alternatives.

The idea of having to deliver to individual homes also seems like a missed opportunity to emphasize less gas usage. I understand the need to offer convenience in order to gain customers, but it would be great to really blow out the group discount promotion and paint the option as the truly best option for consumers; making them a financial deal they can't possibly refuse. Also, through marketing, communicating the individual home delivery for special situations (the disabled, the elderly, customers who genuinely need the service).

I realize keeping a program like this local would lessen the issue of keeping the food fresh and the need for preservatives, but how would you avoid that need in a vending machine? Just out of curiosity what you had in mind; I do think that it is possible to accomplish.

What do you think the potential logistics of your packaging options are, along with additional ideas for composting? I am not knowledgeable regarding reusable, non-plastic, travel-friendly options.

This is just a concept, I know. They are just discussion points I thought of as I was reading it over. Overall, great thinking and intentions!


For reference, here is my concept you commented on earlier:
http://openideo.com/open/localfood/concepting/reinventing-promotional-displays/
  

side note: not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but I would recognize that salad anywhere: Wendy's Mandarin orange salad. Couldn't tell you how many of those I ate when I was in college. Is it bad that it's such a cookie cutter recipe that the brand name is recognizable by sight?

Vincent Cheng

April 23, 2011, 21:45PM
Wow, thanks so much for your detailed feedback Lauren! Absolutely aligned with my intentions that these options (both in terms of level of preparation/experience, and for group buying) are a scaffolded way of getting people more deeply involved, which is facilitated by the graduated pricing that naturally reflects direct (and in a sense, externalized) costs.

In terms of the vending machine. You're right, more thought would be needed to flesh this out fully. I believe there would be the need for refrigeration or even freezing (like current soft drink & ice cream vending machines), along with a frequent replenishment cycle (hence the need to do this in high traffic areas with sufficient scale volume).

Good point about what is the best material for the reusable packaging. I'm not sure about the available options available either. Would appreciate input from others in the community regarding this ;)

And that's hilarious about you recognizing Wendy's Mandarin orange salad =). I had no idea!

Ben Barton

April 20, 2011, 17:59PM
Will extend the reach of CSA's by reducing the amount of mundane time sapping prep jobs and removing the what the heck do i do with this fear. Perfect for the busy working family.

Kirk Soderstrom

April 18, 2011, 19:07PM
Silvia shared this link with me, and thought you might find it useful as well: http://www.foodconnect.com.au/

Vincent Cheng

April 18, 2011, 18:33PM
Just updated this with a scribble to illustrate how the "seasonal subscription cycle" works.

Arjan Tupan

April 17, 2011, 16:57PM
Hi Vincent, you comment on my concept convinced me I should have a look. To be honest, initially I was a bit deterred by the term CSA (it's personal, I have an allergy for out-of-the-box-three-letter-concepts). I should have known better. I really like this idea, and the builds from Louise and Johan on it. I think it is important to lower barriers for people who are not keen on cooking. I suggest that for recipes, you could maybe divide it into 'a bit more challenging' and '30-minute-meals', and use input from Jamie Olivers Food Revolution for that.

Vincent Cheng

April 17, 2011, 17:10PM
Hi Arjan, thanks for taking the time to look at this concept. I agree about the overuse of acronyms and jargon (which were abundant in my stints in consulting & the corporate world). I initially choose to use CSA because of its prevalent usage where I currently live (US), but your comment certainly points to the opportunity for an improved name. I wonder what the commonly used term is in Queensland. Also, if you or anyone else has suggestions for a better name for this concept, I'm all ears =).

Also, yes, there could definitely be recipe tiers. I'm thinking perhaps I can integrate this into the "Master Chef' section (i.e. multiple suggested recipes with varying levels of complexity). Will try to update the concept this coming week (actually have scribbled a simple "seasonal subscription cycle" to illustrate the basics of how this works), but I first must file my household's taxes, which are basically due now =P !

Vincent Cheng

April 17, 2011, 17:37PM
Hmm...maybe simply "Convenient Community Meal Subscriptions" would work better?

Johan Löfström

April 17, 2011, 17:49PM
Hello guys, just a note : i can cook a lot of healthy meals in 5-15 minutes, and done it simply so i have less washing up to do afterwards.

So i personally feel that 30-minute-meals are including eating time, or refer to luxury 3-course-dinners, or catering to 12 persons or more.

But, hey, i do know i am a bit "extremely radical" :D

and this concept is starting to get very related to some of my other concepts. It will be extremely interesting to see evaluation period of this challenge! :D

Arjan Tupan

April 19, 2011, 07:39AM
Really, 15 minutes max? That is radical.
And @Vincent: how about 'Meal Subscription - Conveniently get local food to make a perfect meal in less than 15 minutes'? With the part after '-' being the sub title or pay-off.

Vincent Cheng

April 28, 2011, 10:37AM
Hmm...I think you have some good thoughts about the name Arjan. I will try to think more about this & update if this concept makes it to refinement.

Louise Wilson

April 13, 2011, 16:26PM
Ah, Vincent, I have been working on a concept to do with delivering ingredients for a meal to your door to help you cook your evening meal. I was about to start posting my concept but thought I should check through all the concepts first....and you've already done it!

Instead, I'll explain what I was developing to help build on your concept ;-)

My idea came from the Graze food boxes which people have delivered 'to their desk' http://www.graze.com to provide a healthy snack which you don't have to go out and get. It gives you information on the foods and allows you to try something new. You can go on their website and tell them what foods you don't like or would like to receive more of.

I saw my concept being more of a build on the recipe ideas being posted where you can ask to be sent a 'meal a day' which provides you with a neat box with the ingredients, recipe and information needed to understand what you are cooking and the health implications.

It would help people who can't cook, won't cook, don't have time to cook or simply want to learn more about food. Combining it will a local producer would create awareness with what you can cook from local suppliers. Or, airmiles for each item could be stated.

The only catch is with fresh produce - maybe the ingredients are all dry and you are told which fresh ingredients to go and buy.

Does this make sense/help with your idea or should I post my own concept? ;-)

Vincent Cheng

April 13, 2011, 18:35PM
Thanks for sharing your ideas with me Louise, which definitely resonate. The fact that we both thought along similar lines lends credence to our concept =). Also, just wanted to applaud you for taking the time to check through the concepts before posting. I try to do that as well, as I know it can be a bit overwhelming to wade through multiple duplicate concepts that may fragment the discussion.

Graze looks like a great analogous model to learn from. I think information like nutrition & food miles/local farm info can be included on the website and/or recipe insert.

As for the fresh produce, I agree that this raises the bar higher than Graze non-perishable snacks that are delivered through First Class mail, but I believe the bar is surmountable. After all, various grocery delivery services like FreshDirect (http://www.freshdirect.com/), Peapod (http://www.peapod.com/), & Amazon Fresh (http://fresh.amazon.com/) have successfully used refrigerated trucks for this purpose (nevermind the additional complexity their supply chain deals with in shipping food across the country & from other countries!). This also links well with Christian's Truck Share inspiration (http://bit.ly/eHsezR).

Thanks again, and if I'm missing/misunderstanding anything, please let me know. Oh, and if you have your own unique spin on this, feel free to post it up as a separate concept as well!

Louise Wilson

April 14, 2011, 12:52PM
Thanks for your comments! Good point about the companies who are delivering fresh produce. I wonder if people less interested in cooking etc (as I listed) would be disciplined to cook the meal that day (or before the food goes off).

On a different note, I hate the idea of creating packaging for convenience - be great to have some kind of collection system to reuse your carton (you'd need two so one could be collected when one was dropped off) or have a carton that was biodegradable....

Once people are familiar with the system and have perhaps got better at cooking etc, they may opt to only receive recipes...

Johan Löfström

April 14, 2011, 13:06PM
Regarding packaging: it could be made from material that can be reused, as is, or customers can be taught how to reshape them into some other container or useful item. (before we think about recycling or composting them)

Or users can have competition, to make them send in photos and descriptions of what they do with it in most creative way, i mean some might even use it to plant something in ;-p

Vincent Cheng

April 14, 2011, 13:11PM
Absolutely Louise and thanks for your continued engagement! I think I briefly mentioned a reusable container system that is picked up, along with organic scraps, when the next delivery is dropped off. And yes, the belief is that some people will graduate through the system: i.e. start as a busy diner, try out convenience cooking as it still seems pretty easy as well as a better value, and then become a master chef as their confidence and interest in cooking increases.

As for the the expiration concern, this is an issue that will be common with food picked up at a regular grocery as well. Guess it's important to provide clear best used by information, as well as guidance to freeze the food if it cannot be used by that time.

Louise Wilson

April 14, 2011, 13:26PM
Johan, YES, let's add a competition element to it - love it! Reusing the packaging in a different way is a lovely idea (as long people don't end up with lots of cartons they won't really use/need)

Vincent Cheng

April 14, 2011, 13:39PM
Hmm...I'm also wondering (considering the whole weekly delivery part of this), if organic scraps could simply be returned in the reusable containers. Then during delivery/pickup, containers with new produce/meals are dropped off. Old containers with leftover organic scraps are picked up, emptied at a central location for composting, then washed to be reused on the next order.

Arjan Tupan

April 17, 2011, 16:53PM
Okay, a bit off topic, but I just wanted to say I agree with Vincent and join him in applauding Louise for first going through the other concepts before posting one. Super!

Vincent Cheng

April 09, 2011, 15:23PM
Thanks for the support & detailed builds!

@Mohammed: thanks for your in-depth comments and great suggestions. I particularly liked the idea to target organizations that naturally are attuned to social needs like schools & hospitals.

@Meena: ha, that's a hook for me too. As a kid, I was tested allergic to eggs and lactose intolerant. Now, I can enjoy small amounts of either in moderation.

@Juliana: nice spin that focuses on people with diet goals (i.e. lose, maintain, or gain weight). Did you envision these recipe recommendations varying ingredients or simply volume? One advantage of the volume approach, is that it keeps backend operations simple, making things easier to manage and scale.

@Ann Panopio: I'm glad the vending machine resonated with you =). Although it's a pet idea for me, I didn't post it as a separate concept, as I believe local food needs to become more of a norm (and you need to develop high enough concentrated demand), before a machine like this (and the associated high turnover inventory requirements) can become viable. Also, recipes and information about local food & farms are integrated into this concept in genral through inserts accompanying the food and online (and in the case of vending machines, right on the machine itself).

A P

April 09, 2011, 04:27AM
I agree with everyone below, in that this an excellent and thorough idea. For me, the innovative piece is the CSA Meal vending machines. Though people ought to commit to eating more healthily by subscribing, often life gets in the way for many people to do so. For some, a single healthy CSA meal now and again, is a great first step.
However, there may be some barriers in convincing some people (at least in the United States) to accept a vending machine option because of its negative associations. Making it an option that comes later, as the brand and local food becomes more the norm is a smart step. Could there be an option to incorporate a recipe or something to promote local food and healthy eating into the packaging to reinforce the message?

Juliana Ossa

April 07, 2011, 04:59AM
I think your idea and my idea will mesh well. My concept is creating meal plans and recipes for people who want to better their nutrition by eating organic. Their weekly meal plans come with a shopping list, they can either have the list delivered or they can buy it themselves. I love the idea of having a third option which would be pre-made meals that fit with their nutritional goal if they don't have time too cook.

Meena Kadri

April 07, 2011, 04:22AM
Thanks Vincemt for adding the allergy preferences – I've got a ton and this totally sold me on your concept! (actually there was a lot of general genius going on but that was the real hook for me personally ;^)

Mohammad Aghaya

April 06, 2011, 17:40PM
Wow. It's a fantastic business. You combined too many beautiful things together, made jobs and relived many parents, teachers, individuals and maybe orgs and communities like schools who are worry about their healthy foods and in other side, their lack of time and skills.

I guess your described business can start its job from some social communities and organizations like schools and hospitals. these two kind of institutions mostly try to serve good services for their users, they are try to be careful about social needs and seems to welcome this CSA model for their dining. this CSA model can suggest to schools some country side tours (like many inspirations here that suggested it) and beside serving fresh-local-tasty foods during trip, they will offer comprehensive course-experience on agriculture and bio-diversity to students and make them aware about what they eat. they also can offer to hospitals or other healthcare systems some local-traditional food-medicines (of course under supervision of hospital's doctors).

I liked your details. It is fun and also important and i'm sure setting up this kind of business need huge attention to these very very simple, creative and important details. Brilliant.

 
 

Galen Thompson

May 05, 2011, 00:19AM
What do you all think of Cook! SF? http://cooksf.com Check out their reviews on Yelp as well, to get a sense of some of the challenges a business like this might face. I really like this idea, but I think you would have customers who expect the same level of service/quality as a restaurant but at the price point of groceries.

Vincent Cheng

May 05, 2011, 03:07AM
Hi Galen, thanks so much for the link to CookSF! Looks like their model is similar to the "Convenience Cook" option in this concept's 3 option approach. Agreed that it's a good model to study, and the overall Yelp rating (4 out of 5 stars, based on 30 reviews) demonstrates that there's promise!

Also, agreed that your concerns about price & service/quality expectations are very valid. That's why it's important to 1) provide a menu of options (e.g. a lower-priced "Master Chef" & an ultimate-convenience "Busy Diner", flexibility on # of meal per week, etc.) to meet different people's needs, 2) communicate clearly what's provided so that initial perception is validated by the experience, and 3) ensure your operational back-end is strong enough to deliver the promised quality.
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