In its first partnership with a restaurant brand, fresh vending company Farmer’s Fridge is testing some of its salads, bowls and breakfast items at select Dunkin’ locations.
The pilot program is taking place at six Dunkin’ stores—three in Chicago and three in New Jersey—at which a limited selection of items are on offer behind the counter. Eventually, they will be available in grab-and-go cases rather than the traditional Farmer’s Fridge standalone vending fridges.
“Dunkin’ was exploring new food options focused on plant-forward ingredients,” says Meghan Hurley, head of marketing for Farmer’s Fridge. “Our CEO was introduced to the Dunkin’ folks in 2020, and the idea was launched.”
Historically, Farmer’s Fridge has set up its vending machines in airports, college campuses, office buildings, hospitals and similar venues. There are now about 350 installations, but this is its first venture with a QSR.
Dunkin’ is offering two Farmer’s Fridge salads and two bowls, including a harvest salad, Greek salad, pesto pasta and a burrito bowl. The last is a combo of black beans, a brown rice-quinoa blend, fire-roasted corn, roasted fajita veggies and guacamole. Also on the menu are chia pudding, apple-cinnamon oats and a yogurt parfait. None of these were developed specifically for Dunkin but were already in the fridges, Hurley says.
As in its vending operations, all of the food is packed into recyclable plastic jars. Dunkin’ customers can either recycle these at home or bring the jars back to the store they purchased them from.
With many of its fridges in locations that immediately shut down at the start of the pandemic, Farmer’s Fridge had to quickly transform its business model. “We lost 70% to 80% of our business that first week, but by the end of March, we built an e-commerce site on Shopify and launched self-delivery in some markets,” Hurley says. “People still wanted healthy food fast, so we were serving the same occasion as we did at the office.”
The company also relocated some of its fridges in hospitals and universities to make them more accessible to frontline workers and quarantining students.
In addition, Farmer’s Fridge debuted a Chef Collab series, using well-known restaurant chefs to create recipes for the fridges and home delivery. “When restaurants shut down, we asked the chefs what they would make at home, and they developed dishes for us,” Hurley says.
The lineup includes Bill Kim, Paul Kahan, Missy Robbins and Stephanie Izard, the latter of whom created a tofu bowl.
Almost a year later, Farmer’s Fridge business is back to pre-pandemic levels, says Hurley, but sales are going through different channels. With about half the fridges currently inactive, the company is doing more wholesale, e-commerce and delivery.
In 2021, “we want to take a step back and build out these channels,” Hurley says. “The menu team also wants to focus on product development and develop recipes based on trends and customers’ needs. The Dunkin’ items are just in test right now, but we hope to partner with other restaurants in the future.”