Investing in the Future of Food: ‘Real human relationships are more important than ever’ to maintain consumers after initial pandemic panic

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food-X, Entrepreneurship, Investing in the Future of Food, coronavirus

As the initial chaos of the early days of the pandemic and pantry loading settle into a more predictable flow, entrepreneurs may be tempted to pause and catch their breath, but according to the CEO of the emerging e-commerce retailer Living Food Co., now is the time to reconnect with business partners and consumers to identify ways to improve and engage new consumers long-term.

Positioned as “Whole Foods 2.0 in India,”Living Food Co.​ opened its online storefront in 2018 as a way to deliver “absurdly fresh and healthy food”​ to consumers with limited access to safe food from vendors with whom the co-founders took time to develop personal relationships and shared values.

In the company’s first months, demand steadily climbed 25% month over month – allowing the founders to get to know additional vendors as they scaled. But when the pandemic was declared, demand doubled and the team behind the online subscription food service no longer had time for small talk – the loss of which threatened unexpected harm and the return of which brings significant growth potential.

“We were growing so fast [in the first months of the pandemic] we lost focus on creating relationships with vendors”​ who provide fresh baked bread, sauces, condiments and vegan desserts to offer on alongside Living Fresh Co.’s hydroponic produce subscriptions, Akash Sajith, company founder and CEO, told FoodNavigator-USA for this episode of Investing in the Future of Food​.

He explained, “in the beginning we were talking to them every other day, and when orders started coming in [during the pandemic] it reached a point where we just talked about money.”

But now that the Living Food Co. knows how to manage the surge of subscription orders that have flooded in during the pandemic, Sajith said, the team is “going back to basics” ​and meeting with vendors every week to ask how Living Food Co. can better support them so that they can meet increased demand without sacrificing quality.

“The importance of having real human relationships is more than ever. This is a time … we should ask more questions, we should talk to everyone in your ecosystem – especially your customers. Ask them what more you can do for them, how you can improve your existing processes, what is it that they dislike about you, what is it they like about you”​ and then use that “to really work on and focus on and improve on yourself personally, your processes, your departments,”​ Sajith said.

Be humble and keep an open mind

While he says this process “works beautifully,”​ it can also uncover some difficult lessons, which is why he says when soliciting feedback, entrepreneurs need to keep an open mind. He explained what they learn might not align with how they perceive themselves or their business. But that doesn’t mean they should dismiss the insights, which is something the Living Food Co. team learned while participating in the most recent cohort of SOSV’s Food-X accelerator program.

“As a founder you should be open minded and humble and you should think independently. It is really important to reflect on the reasons of why you started in the first place and what value you want to add to the world,”​ but then also test whether you are delivering on that goal by asking questions of consumers, partners, investors and other stakeholders, he said.

For example, he noted that mentors  he met while participating in SOSV’s Food-X accelerator program helped Living Food Company identify new areas for growth – including some categories that the team might have originally dismissed out of hand as contrary to the company’s premise. But by having an open mind and hearing the pros and cons, the team was able to move forward with a solution that enhanced the business without compromising it.

Sajith said that as the company continues to reevaluate its processes and fine-tune its business, it will keep an open mind so that it can add vendors, customers and categories that all have shared values and goals so that they can forge long-term relationships based on more than money.

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