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Staying Small and Thinking Big with Farm to People

The New York City‑based delivery service uses Mailchimp to spread the word about their product offerings and educate customers on food sustainability.

In a world where the food supply chain can often be costly, wasteful, and unhealthy, one business is leading the charge for change in its own backyard. Farm to People offers a convenient alternative to farm stands, community-supported agriculture (CSAs), and farmers markets in New York, with flexible delivery options tailored to customer preferences.

Founded by native New Yorker Michael Robinov, the business is committed to redefining the way people get food to their tables, prioritizing fresh, high-quality produce, meat, dairy, and more sourced directly from trustworthy farmers and producers. But to accomplish this mission, Michael has learned to tap into the power of being small and local and has built Farm to People by sticking to his ideals.

This approach is supported by a comprehensive content marketing strategy—carried out with the help of Mailchimp—to educate audiences on how healthy food choices and sustainable produce systems go hand in hand.

Recently, we had the opportunity to chat with Michael about the ways small, local businesses can use the power of community, service, and sustainability to be successful. Here are 3 of our key takeaways.

Don't be afraid to pivot (and pivot again)

Farm to People is familiar with reinventing itself. When the business started, the plan was to dropship products directly from farms to people (hence the name), but the shipping costs and unit economics didn't work out.

From there, Farm to People switched to being a shelf-stable, gift-centric business that garnered major success every Q4—but sales would ultimately slow down throughout the rest of the year.

Realizing this model was too complicated and not sustainable in the long term, Michael decided to pivot again by listening to Farm to People's customer base. "I started to try to understand what our customers who loved our mission actually wanted for themselves. Being New Yorkers, many people I talked to wished they could go to the farmers market more frequently."

However, most of these people weren't satisfied with the existing local agricultural models and markets because they weren't customizable. It's here that Farm to People found its opening.

Since 2018, their business has shifted to being an online farmers market and grocery delivery service that allows customers to get produce however they want—whether that's with a subscription box or a la carte.

With the help of Mailchimp, Farm to People has also been able to upsell and cross-sell their products to customers with different behaviors and preferences using segmentation tools. "If a customer cohort is ordering but not subscribed, then we'll try to send them a specific email about trying a subscription box. If a customer cohort is just trying a farm box subscription but not adding on other things that we assume most people are consuming, we'll send them a targeted email about adding to their subscription."

According to Michael, Farm to People's best customers say they now use the service for a majority of their weekly shopping.

Using custom insights to create a segment. For example, if contact is tagged New Customer or if they are interested in Services.

Prioritize the customer experience

Being smaller, especially with local reach, empowers businesses to be more nimble and flexible when serving customers. The foundation of Farm to People rests on its ability to provide fresh produce to its customers in a timely manner, especially during the busy holiday season. Farm to People delivers thousands of meals during Thanksgiving week.

The holidays can be a stressful time for their business, but Michael sees the season as an opportunity to go back to the basics and refocus on providing excellent customer service—something that's much easier to do with a smaller team in the New York City community.

Farm to People doesn't rely on third-party shipping. Instead, the business handles all of its own deliveries, which has given it greater control over the customer experience. But that wasn't always the case—Michael recounted feeling powerless when customers would call about a package that never arrived back when Farm to People used a national shipping carrier to deliver.

"Now we actually go out on Thanksgiving morning and fix any issues. It's a level of service that customers aren't used to," Michael explained. "They're used to other businesses saying, 'I'm sorry, we can't fix it.' But Farm to People can fix it and we do. I think it's kind of lovely."

Local reach doesn't mean compromising a global vision

For now, Farm to People is focused on primarily serving its current community, but the business has its sights set on helping develop more self-reliant agricultural programs in other regions, too.

"The future of Farm to People is going to be enabling regional food hubs around the country—and the world—that will allow everyone to have access to good food," Michael said. "The goal is to help local economies and give more farmers options to deliver to their local populations. The future needs to be regenerative agriculture and more sustainability-minded so we're not stressing our soil to the point where it can no longer actually produce."

Farm to People wants to continue to do its part, especially in New York, to educate people about why regional agriculture and sustainable farming is important. But Michael also recognizes that they can't just preach at their customers—they need to be engaging and, most of all, provide valuable content.

Using Mailchimp, Farm to People sends weekly emails as well as staggered campaigns, not just about the business's products but also about other health-focused topics, such as the importance of a diversified diet. They also include recipes to get people started on their journey to less waste and better health, both for themselves and the planet.

This content has empowered customers to feel more confident about their diets and health choices, amplifying the mission of developing more sustainable food practices to a large audience.

"I think having that strong mission has allowed us to constantly innovate around it without changing what Farm to People at its core is about," Michael said. "So I'm excited for the next years to come because I think we can continue to make a better customer experience with more options and more usability. We're just getting started."

Published: February 5, 2024

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