Chad Arnold and his team at door to door organics are helping to reinvent grocery shopping for the digital age.
In the beginning, everything revolved around delivery of the box — an impeccable assortment of home-delivered organic fruits and vegetables sourced from local networks of small farms.
That was the basic business at Door to Door Organics when Chad Arnold (MBA’07) became chief operating officer in 2009, just two years out of CU-Boulder.
Since then, he has risen to president and CEO, grown sales from $3 million to more than $30 million and raised more than $25 million in new investment for the Louisville, Colo.-based online grocery and delivery service.
Fresh food and free home delivery remain company hallmarks. So does rapid growth, driven by Arnold’s careful attention to the variety of motivations driving consumers’ decisions about how, when and where to shop.
“When I began to ask the fundamental question of why more people don’t shop for food online, I found the answer wasn’t because our box of produce wasn’t perfect,” says Arnold, 41. “It was because nobody had really made online grocery relevant to how people shop and eat.”
If the diversity of consumers’ incentives has been overlooked by the still-budding online grocery industry — which represents about 2 percent of $650 billion in total U.S. grocery spending — Arnold sees this as an opportunity for Door to Door.
“People’s goals aren’t just about eating tasty food, but also eating healthy and being informed in a convenient way for a fair price — ultimately shopping their values,” he says.
Consumers want more than healthy, tasty food, convenience and a fair price. They want to shop their values.
Founded in Pennsylvania in 1997 as an organic produce delivery service, Door to Door Organics sank roots in Colorado in 2005. Today the company operates in a total of 12 states, from Colorado and Wyoming in the west to Illinois and Wisconsin in the Midwest and New York and New Jersey in the east. It plans to enter additional markets this year and next.
Door to Door competes with the giants of grocery delivery — Fresh Direct, Pea Pod and Walmart To Go — as well as about half a dozen smaller firms, Arnold says. Amazon also has entered the online grocery business.
Door to Door seeks to distinguish itself through higher-quality products and superior customer experience, and by appealing to the breadth of consumers’ needs and interests.
The company not only makes recommendations for shoppers but also suggests recipes for healthy meals based on what’s in their carts and provides a weekly meal-planning tool.
Because the company sources food from family farms and ranches around the country, it enables consumers to contribute to their regional economies. And because the produce travels relatively short distances, consumers participate in an environmentally conscious distribution system.
In a complex logistical operation, Door to Door partners with about 700 farmers, artisans and natural and organic food producers to offer fresh produce boxes and groceries that are delivered right to customers’ homes or offices.
For customers the process starts online by setting up a regular subscription for an organic produce box. Box options vary in size, content and frequency. A standard weekly small-size delivery costs about $36 and might include a mix of one bunch of Swiss chard, a head of red-leaf lettuce, a couple of apples and about nine other vegetable or fruit items.
The specific produce in the box varies based on the season and customer preference. Subscribers get a preview of what’s coming and may change up to five items. They also can add meats, dairy and more conventional groceries, including nonperishable and frozen goods. The services are commitment and fee-free.
“It’s a high expectation that we’re held to each week,” says Cambria Vaccaro, vice president of marketing and customer service at Door to Door. “We’ve got to continue to thrill and surprise.”
Originally from California, Arnold came to Leeds, and to business, from the nonprofit world. Over seven years, he rose from teacher to executive director of Nature Bridge, an environmental education group that operates at national parks. He liked the mission-oriented work of nonprofits, but found the economic model limiting.
“There are some real challenges around keeping a nonprofit funded while attracting talent and providing the services you’re trying to provide,” he says.
Also, he felt that rapid technological development was shaping business in many industries in appealing ways.
“I was seeing technology impact the business sector and a large movement gaining momentum among for-profit companies to balance doing well and doing good,” says Arnold.
He applied to MBA programs and chose CU’s Leeds School of Business for its entrepreneurial emphasis, he says. He made the most of it, participating in both the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurial Solutions, an MBA-run consulting group. It was through a consulting gig that he first came to know Door to Door founder David Gersenson.
After graduation, Arnold worked as a consultant to early-stage clean technology enterprises and as an executive at a lithium ion battery start-up before joining Door to Door’s executive ranks.
“David was at the point of asking ‘What do I do now?'” Arnold told Entrepreneur magazine last year. “He was trying to figure out how to scale the business, and I knew how to do it.”
As Door to Door grows, it’s creating jobs for others, too. As of March, it employed a national workforce of 367, up more than 100 percent in less than three years.
“People are inspired to work here,” says Arnold. “At the end of the day, that helps us deliver a better product and a better experience.”
And happy employees make for happy customers.
“We have people in our warehouses — going through produce and putting together boxes, for example — making 30,000 decisions a day that could result in us keeping or losing customers,” says Arnold. “Our ability to value every job in the cycle is critical to a great product and ultimately gaining customers’ trust and helping them transition their behaviors to ordering online. It’s a shared responsibility.”
Photography by Glenn Asakawa