CEO and Founder of Farmer’s Fridge explains how he leads his team and pursues his passion of providing fresh food.
Here at Forefront, we understand the value of balancing being a successful leader with trying to stay healthy. Executives are constantly juggling tasks and responsibilities, so eating right might be put aside for something quicker and more convenient.
Luke Saunders, Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Farmer’s Fridge, is trying to change that. Drawing on his passions for healthy eating, fresh foods and discovering a way to bring to bring them to the busy worker… through vending machines. We spoke with Saunders about his concept, what it is like to lead his team and how he sees Farmer’s Fridge growing in years to come.
Forefront: I read about your background, and I’m really interested in where your inspiration for this company came from?
Luke Saunders: I’ve always liked eating healthy food. I don’t eat exclusively healthy food, but I definitely try to eat healthy most of the time. I was traveling a lot for a job that I had and I really was having trouble finding healthy food, so it just kind was a necessity thing. I thought more about how healthy food could be better distributed. A machine originally was the idea, but then that kind of morphed into, ‘Oh, I could just use a vending machine.’ That’s when it started. It was just the need for healthy food in more places.
Forefront: You began your business in 2013. Where were some of the places you first put the machine, and where would you like to be in the future?
Saunders: Our criteria, we wanted to be in open to the public places. We’re in a food court. We’re in a highway rest stop; it’s the second one. It’s a high-end rest stop north of Chicago. Our goal was to be in places where everybody could see it and we were competing directly against good food, which is kind of crazy because it’s a vending machine.
That was part of the value proposition, that this is like restaurant quality, fast casual food that we can get to you in a vending machine. The next phase of our growth is getting these into offices and hospitals and community centers—places that fit the profile for the right number of people.
Forefront: How have people received Farmer’s Fridge since launching?
Saunders: We get so much attention from social media and stuff like that. People have been really responsive, and it seems like there’s really a demand out there. We get a lot of requests for placing a machine and such. I think then on the ground at the actual machines we get good feedback as well.
I think the biggest surprise was, I thought it would be a much bigger struggle to get people to buy fresh food out of a vending machine in that environment where your price point and your quality is as high as, like I said, a restaurant or fast casual place. Surprisingly, people were like, that wasn’t a big deal to them at all.
Forefront: How do you see Farmer’s Fridge helping the average businessperson?
Saunders: As far as everyone is concerned, the food is extremely healthy and it’s designed really to be nutrient-dense food that gives you the right kind of energy. If you’re busy and working a lot, this is something you can eat at your desk. You can eat on the go, and it really improves your quality of life from eating healthy food.
Installing one of our kiosks in your building as part of a wellness program could maybe help you encourage your employees to eat healthier or make them more satisfied at work. They don’t feel like, “Oh, I don’t want to go work at the building because there’s no food in the neighborhood.”
Forefront: Can you tell me about some of the leadership challenges that you faced and how you’ve overcome them?
Saunders: I think that the biggest one that I feel the pressure on is the time to lead. You want to really focus on training people and getting their feedback and building the right culture, but sometimes you have an immediate thing you need to deal with. You don’t always necessarily have the time to take someone and really mold them in the way you might want to if you were just the manager.
For me, I really look forward to being able to do that, but I’ve hired people that don’t need that. They can kind of jump right into the position, and they’re excited about it. That’s definitely for me the biggest challenge. I’d love to be able to really focus on leadership exclusively, but you can’t do that when your company’s this small.
Forefront: Where do you see the future of Farmer’s Fridge going a year from now; two years from now?
Saunders: I think a year from now, I’d really like to have a good size footprint in Chicago and have expanded our delivery and catering options. We just launched a meal delivery program where you can get your meals delivered right to your door. To have more catering clients and I think to have a few dozen of those machines out in the city. Longer than that, I’d love to find partners or expand our own into other cities.