“We are not preaching veganism. We’re not trying to make people make wholesale changes to the way they eat or to their lifestyles,” but in the last 18 months since the company launched “we have found great success tapping into people’s growing awareness of the benefits of a plant-based diet by providing them with delicious and easy-to-follow recipes and ingredients through the convenience and joy of a meal kit,” CEO and Founder Andy Levitt told FoodNavigator-USA.
He added that with the funding from WindSail Capital, in addition to the $125,000 with which Levitt launched the company that the $2.8 million it raised using equity last year, Purple Carrot will be able to exponentially accelerate the company’s mission to make plant-based eating mainstream.
One way it will do this is by investing in consumer research that will take a “pretty deep dive at the qualitative and quantitative level around consumer attitudes and preferences that will enable us, over the next couple of months, to refine our branding and refine our messaging” so that it better resonates with consumers, Levitt said.
“We are at a pretty early stage of that research … but what I can say about it is that it’s going to help us better communicate the clear-cut environmental benefits of eating a plant-based diet for this country and the planet,” he said. It also will help the company better communicate the how a plant-based diet can help reduce and reverse chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease, he added.
The funds also will help the young company expand product development, including a new Guest Chef series that will feature notable chefs and influencers who will create plant-based recipes offered in Purple Carrot’s weekly menus, Levitt said.
A goal of the Guest Chef series will be to make plant-based meals more accessible and feel less “weird and fringy” to Americans who are less familiar with the vegan diet or who may associate it with activism, he said.
“We are going to help people understand the connection between the food choices that they make and their own health and also the impact of their choices on the environment,” but in an easy to approach way that does not threaten their values, he added.
Debt financing underscores company’s confidence
The company’s decision to move forward with debt financing from WindSail Capital in this round, rather than in equity funding as in its prior fundraising round, also sends a powerful message about the company’s confidence in its future, Levitt said.
The debt approach “is a very strategic statement that says we are making it and that we are betting on ourselves and our future growth, rather than selling a substantial percentage of the company at a relatively early stage in an equity transaction,” he explained.
“We believe over time the value of Purple Carrot will grow exponentially and this funding will be able to propel us there without having to sacrifice a lot of equity,” he added.
A successful track record
To support his decision and vision for the future, Levitt pointed to the company’s fast growth to date.
“When I started this business, I shipped 93 boxes from my garage and kitchen in the first month of October 2014, and over the course of 2015 we probably shipped over a hundred thousand meals. And now we’re on an extraordinarily different path… and are very excited about how we are helping thousands and thousands and thousands of people to embrace the values of eating a plant-based diet a few nights a week,” he said.
He attributed the company’s “exponential” growth in part to three key decisions.
The first was opening a West Coast distribution center in November 2015 that allowed the company to distribute to about 75% of the country, whereas before it was limited to the Northeast Atlantic region and could only reach about one-third of the country, Levitt said.
“The other big differentiator for us was the introduction of the two-person meal frame,” Levitt said. He explained that when Purple Carrot launched it only offered a family-size option that fed four people twice a week. The introduction of an option for three meals that feed two people drastically increased the demographic to whom the service appealed.
Finally, Levitt said, the introduction of a subscription service was another key component to Purple Carrot’s growth. He noted that when the company first launched it was a pay-as-you-go model, but the subscription makes it easier for repeat purchases.
Mark Bittman departs
The funding also comes as word leaked about the departure from the company of Mark Bittman, a former New York Times’ columnist and influential leader in the food space.
Levitt told the San Francisco Chronicle that Bittman’s departure was a mutual decision, but that he remains a strong advocate for the brand, a friend and equity holder in the company – all for which the Purple Carrot is grateful.
Looking from the past to the future, Levitt said: “We are still early days for our company but couldn’t be more proud of the progress that we’ve made and we are thrilled to have the backing of WindSail Capital, and the opportunity that that funding will give us to help make plant-based eating something that is much more widespread.”