Luke Saunders is out to prove healthy meals can come at the push of a button. Farmer’s Fridge, a line of vending machines stocked with locally sourced salads, breakfasts and snacks, is the result of his goal to make nutritious meals more accessible. “The idea is that the more convenient, the more affordable and the more accessible the food is, the more people will eat those healthy options,” he says. Most salads are less than $10 and 300 calories without dressing. Since founding the company in 2013, Farmer’s Fridge has expanded to 16 machines throughout Chicago, including a noncommercial introduction in May of three machines serving staff and visitors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Q: Did you always plan to expand to hospitals?
A: That was definitely the goal. We see this as a way to distribute healthy food more effectively. Obviously, if you find yourself at the hospital, healthy food is something that you are looking for. So for us, it’s a definite logical step. Plus, it’s open 24 hours, which is great for everyone who works there.
Q: When are peak hours?
A: It’s probably our most active overnight location. I would say most of the volume is still concentrated in the 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. daypart, but it is way more distributed than any of our other locations. So we do sales in every hour of the day. [Saunders later added that 30 percent of sales at Northwestern machines happen outside of normal distribution for other locations.]
Q: How do you choose a location?
A: The model is to be at places that are underserved––that they are in a low-volume foodservice model. But at the same time, we found out we can work really well in a food court where there are plenty of options, because we still tend to be the most competitive in terms of convenience or healthy food.
Q: Did the business model change to suit a hospital?
A: We really just make sure we stock early in the day, in case there is a lot of activity during the night. So far, the model is really geared toward places like this, where they want 24-hour service and need something really quickly. We’ve heard back from a lot of the staff that when they just have a little bit of time and the other foodservice options lines are really long, they can just get in and get out with [the vending machines].
Q: Do you plan on opening machines in other noncommercial settings?
A: We are actually hoping to open in some universities soon here and would love to be in more noncommercial venues. I think it’s a great place for us, because those places tend to have nontraditional schedules.