Challenge: COVID-19 causes an unprecedented surge in demand for local, farm fresh produce delivered to homes across the D.C. area and surrounding states.
Solution: 4P Foods pivots from wholesale to home delivery, and implements delivery management platform Routific for planning thousands of stops and sending automated delivery notifications to customers at home.
Results: 3X growth since COVID. Loyal customers embrace local food system and the convenience of home delivery.
4P Foods is a food hub in Washington D.C. that aggregates, stores, promotes, and distributes local food from farms to consumers and institutions. When COVID-19 hit in March, 85% of their wholesale business dried up overnight.
“We thought, ‘This is it. We’re going out of business.’”, said 4P Foods Operations Manager Justin White. It was a couple days later when the team realized the retail side of their business was about to experience a huge uptick. They scrambled to pivot the business from wholesale to home delivery.
A quick pivot to home delivery
“The sales numbers were absolutely insane,” White said. “Last year, during our first quarter, we had decent growth – about 40%. That was good. This year, we saw 40% growth in the first week of COVID. And then we saw it again the next week, and again the next week. We went from a team of 8 on the retail side to well over 100, bringing in every volunteer and every temp we could get our hands on.”
With such demand came the need to automate the way they planned and optimized their home delivery routes. Routes needed to be quick and efficient, as they were transporting perishables to hundreds of homes every day.
“Our old systems were very manual and limited in capacity. Our drivers couldn’t keep up. We couldn’t route 1000 stops by hand, and that’s when we knew we needed software to help,” White said. “The first time the drivers came back from a route, our lead driver who had initially given us a lot of push back when it came to software, said ‘We should’ve done this a long time ago.”
Constant communication with customers
A robust route optimization solution is vital to 4P Foods as they scale up, but it is also important to have the ability to make the home delivery experience as smooth as possible for customers.
Currently, 4P Foods uses Routific to send two automated SMS messages to their customers.
- Notifications are automatically sent to customers as soon as a 4P Foods delivery driver is on the way.
- A second confirmation message is automatically sent via Routific’s platform letting customers know the delivery has been completed.
“When you’re transporting something as perishable as groceries, it really helps to let customers know when they can expect it,” said White.
“Real time updates are central to our future strategy of offering our customers delivery windows. We’ve been piloting the text messaging with a group of our customers, and the feedback has been very positive. We expect to roll this feature out to our entire customer base soon and expect it to have a big impact on the customer experience.”
Reinventing the local food system
4P Foods is not only changing the way farm fresh produce is delivered to homes at scale. They’re doing something much bigger: reinventing the way we eat.
“We believe in a food system grounded in equity, respect, and food justice,” explained Beth Leonard, CFO at 4P Foods. “When we got into Covid, people were largely looking for contactless home delivery they could count on because they were scared to go to the store. In these cases, convenience outweighed the mission. What we’re seeing [now] is that while these new customers joined us for convenience, they are now staying for the mission.”
Since March, 4P Foods’ home delivery business has grown 3x, with deliveries made to about 3,500 homes across D.C., Virginia, and Maryland every week.
“The current food system is broken. 4P is creating an alternative food system grounded in equality, respect, and food justice,” Leonard said. “Supporting local foods enables farmers to earn a living wage, and enables good, nutritious food to be accessible and affordable to everyone.”