The brainchild of Florida-based Max Friedman – who ran a branding and product development agency before launching his foodie marketplace two years ago – Hatchery gives small brands exposure without making them jump through so many costly hoops, he told FoodNavigator-USA.
“I’ve worked with a lot of small food companies trying to get their products into stores such as Whole Foods and it became clear that traditional retail really isn’t a very empowering platform for many of them.
“I kept seeing this pattern where the retailer puts a lot of pressure and responsibility on makers to promote their product and drive sales and very often small companies just don’t have the resources or the expertise to do it, and it all ends in failure, even where you have wonderful products and really passionate people. I just thought there has to be a better way.”
Consumers are looking for quality products made by small companies and passionate people, not large corporations
He added: “So I decided to sell my agency and build a platform for independent makers to find success. The consumer is increasingly looking for quality products made by small companies and passionate people not large corporations, so it just seemed like the time was right.”
Today he has built a community of almost 200 small vendors and shipped tens of thousands of products to an engaged community of food lovers, who keep coming back in part because they have found products they love – and can’t buy anywhere else – and in part because they know they will discover new things, he said.
“We’re focused on independent small batch food markers that don’t have exposure beyond their local market, so we’re selling products you won’t find in big box retail stores or on Amazon.”
On average, people buy about 5-6 items per transaction from a marketplace of 600+ items, with the heaviest buyers proving to be women aged 25-40, who are active on social media and like sharing food discoveries on Instagram.
Offering free delivery on purchases over $45 (otherwise, the delivery fee is $4.95, whether you order one item or multiple items) has also encouraged shoppers to try more products.
“What people really like about the service is that they get everything in one box at the same time, as we hold all the inventory at a central location in Connecticut and at a secondary hub in Nevada,” said Friedman. “So we’re about 1-3 days from every one of our customers."
He added: “This means they don’t have to pay shipping for delivery on four different items, and then wait for two weeks for half of them before certain items are drop-shipped by a vendor. We are a one stop shop.”
But’s what in it for the vendors?
“We get emails coming all the time from our makers that are thrilled with the exposure that they have got from Hatchery,” said Friedman.
“Of course not everyone finds immediate success – that’s not realistic – we’re a young organization and not everyone knows we exist; but we are learning from experience what sells and what doesn’t, and we are using that insight to help us make better decisions.”
The tasting box
The focus now – aside from bringing on new vendors – is developing new features to engage new and existing customers, he said.
For example, one popular feature on the site is the ‘tasting box’ – a subscription service that delivers a monthly box of gourmet goodies for $20/month that does particularly well in the holiday season as a gift - he said.
A more customized experience
Another new initiative launching next year – which will become more valuable as the numbers of vendors/products grows – is the ability to customize the experience, so that gluten-free shoppers only see gluten-free items, or spicy food lovers can quickly identify items of interest.
Sending out a surprise free sample with every box shipped out has also proved a great way to introduce shoppers to new vendors on the site, he added.
As for recruiting new vendors, multiple methods have proved effective, from using scouts to identify hot products at farmers’ markets and independent food stores, to attending trade shows, he said.
We’ll see a ton of movement towards e-commerce based food platforms
However, as the site has gained traction, more small producers are approaching Hatchery directly, said Friedman, who has funded his venture thus far with his own money plus the usual friends and family round, although he is now looking for outside investment.
“I believe that there are thousands of passionate food makers out there - and the number is growing day by day - that are looking for a platform that empowers them.
“If I had tried to do this even three or four years ago it would probably have been too soon, but now the time just feels right. I think we’ll see a ton of movement towards e-commerce based food platforms in the coming years.”