Food-delivery services thrive in the age of COVID
Businesses and people around the world have suffered in countless ways because of the pandemic caused by COVID-19. We have been afraid to grocery shop or eat in restaurants. At times, because of various restrictions, we literally could not.
But that fear, in part, has caused at least one business to boom: food-delivery services. Those services come in many forms, from international companies (like DoorDash and Grubhub) realizing triple-digit growth in 2020 to locally owned restaurants and grocery stores creating delivery services in order to survive. Some services just pick up and deliver; others specialize in prepared meals, fresh produce, and customized boxes or baskets filled with specialty items.
Three of the local food-delivery services that cater to Hendersonville are AVL Box, Mother Earth Food, and Asheville Pro Kitchen. Each has carved out a niche market during an unprecedented time — and all are doing well.
“The pandemic has benefited us, obviously, as it put us in the perfect position to be able to provide what people desperately needed: fresh, healthy food delivered in a safe way,” Asheville Pro Kitchen’s owner/chef Dustin Orofino tells Bold Life. “But when life begins to go back to normal, that need will be replaced by busyness and the desire for convenience, and we will still be in a great position to provide.”
Asheville Pro Kitchen has been in business for four years, delivering gourmet heat-and-serve food (starting at $55 for four meals delivered twice a week). Recent menus have featured chickpea coconut curry, Italian beef meatballs, and creamy tomato & basil cheese tortellini (all with multiple side dishes). Subscribers also have the option of putting together a mix-and match menu from the a la carte online options of proteins and veggies.
“I think people have been more focused on eating healthier food and taking better care of themselves,” Orofino observes. “This has been a great opportunity for us to provide a valuable service.”
Mother Earth’s focus is fresh, local, and organic produce. For $28, the company will deliver a “fixed small fruit or veggie basket” (no substitutions) with anywhere from 6 to 8 portions of seasonal harvest. On the larger end is a $49.99 customizable large basket with 14-17 portions that has the potential of more than 25 choices. In addition, Mother Earth offers an extensive array of dairy products, meats, spices, baked goods, prepared dishes, coffee, tea, kombucha, and body-care products.
“COVID-19 temporarily closed farmers’ markets, locked down restaurant dining rooms and forced people to cook at home. Suddenly, Mother Earth Food was very much in demand, with several-thousand customers waitlisted for home delivery of groceries,” says CEO Janelle Tatum. “Our business grew 450 percent in the six weeks from mid-March to the end of April as we on-boarded these new customers. … We put new systems in place, restructured, and added to the team, including a new COO, and increased delivery routes from seven to 21.”
Today, Mother Earth’s waitlist is cleared. “We’ve put over $2.2 million in the pockets of small businesses and farmers in 2020,” reports Tatum.
The AVL Box, located in Fletcher, curates its offerings around select themes, starting with the Veggie Box for $25. The prevailing theme, though, is showcasing local products: The Essentials Box is veggies plus two additional handcrafted items, according to availability; the Pioneer Box is the Essentials box plus locally made beer or wine (from Innovation, Highland, Wicked Weed, Hi-Wire, Boojum, etc.); the Dynamite Box is coffee products from Dynamite Roasting Co.; the Hey Honey Box is centered around infused honey from Asheville Bee Charmer and body-care products from Honey Bliss; and the Foodie Box includes an Appalachian Roots spice sampler pack and Laurie Bakke’s Cookbook, by the celebrated Hendersonville chef/caterer turned author. (Bread from Underground Baking Co. and organic eggs from Fruitland Farmstand are other Henderson County offerings.)
Subscribers to the weekly boxes can add from dozens of additions — everything from kimchi to chocolate to candles — or customize boxes completely from scratch.
“We want to introduce people near and far to the incredible craftsmanship and culinary treasures of our region,” says Cassie Cosgrove, founder of AVL Box. The other part of the mission is “mak[ing] direct and meaningful connections within our community among farmers, makers, and small-business owners. During a pandemic, when there are limited opportunities to accomplish these things, we believe that we are blazing a trail.”
Nevertheless, Cosgrove says her company “aims to encourage a culture of anti-competitiveness … we wholeheartedly believe that we are all in this together.”