Building a Business While Helping Fight Food Insecurity

Building a Business While Helping Fight Food Insecurity

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On this episode of the Ecwid Ecommerce Show, we have a conversation with Liz Abunaw, the founder of the Forty Acres Fresh Market.

We’ve already shared a bit of Liz’s story in our article about her mission and how she uses Ecwid to achieve it.

In the podcast, you’ll learn more about how Liz made her business happen and what inspired her to start. You’ll also learn some value-packed and practical advice from Liz, including market research, networking, making it through trial and error, and more. Make sure to tune in for inspiration!

What Forty Acres Fresh Market is All About

Forty Acres Fresh Market is a neighborhood grocer based in Chicago that focuses on increasing access to affordable fresh food in underserved communities. Currently operating as a mobile produce market through pop-up markets and delivery services, their ultimate goal is to build a store on the west side of Chicago. Liz’s mission to provide access to fresh produce highlights her dedication to improving the community’s health and wellness.

Market Research

In the interview, Liz highlighted the importance of market research for business owners. Liz shared how she spent many afternoons auditing the different grocery options available in neighborhoods of interest. By looking at their pricing, what they offered, and their locations, she realized there was a large section of the neighborhood that effectively had no grocery store.

After researching the demographics, including household income and car ownership, Liz was able to identify what the neighborhood needed, what it lacked, and what it could support. By doing adequate market research, Liz aimed to offer a better grocery option in the neighborhood.

First Pop-Up Market

During the podcast, Liz shared how her journey started with a pop-up market. Despite overbuying inventory, she was able to transform a community room into a stunning market with fresh produce displays. With just a few dozen people in attendance, they expressed their love for the market and the need for it in their neighborhood.

Word-of-mouth began to spread, and Liz started to receive calls from others asking if she could bring the market to their location.

Learning from Failures

Liz shared her experience of starting small and learning from failures. For example, by conducting trial runs at a temporary retail space for 30-60 days, she faced challenges like terrible traffic. However, the experience taught her about the community’s grocery leakage, leading to a better understanding of the neighborhood’s needs.

Testing Marketing Strategies

During the podcast, Liz discussed her experience with marketing strategies. She used social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to promote her business. She hired a student from her sorority chapter to create promotional flyers. She also canvassed and sent direct mail to households. However, she found the latter to be a waste of money as the lack of brand recognition led to people to throw away her messages.

Building Trust with Customers

Liz touched on the importance of building credibility through consistency and time. She talked about finding partners and support from local nonprofit organizations and elected officials, who helped push the business along. By consistently promoting its mission and doing pop-up markets, the business built its reputation enough to expand into delivery services, which became especially successful during the pandemic. Building the foundation of the business through consistency and messaging proved crucial for the business’s growth.

Creating a Delivery Service

Liz also discussed the process of iterating and improving the delivery service for her business. By testing and getting feedback from customers, they were able to make the service more user-friendly and visible to staff members.

Choosing a Subscription Service

Liz shared how a customer’s suggestion led to the creation of a subscription service with produce boxes. The business experimented with different payment processing platforms and eventually settled on a flat rate box with different options. The low entry price point made it appealing to customers and helped the business grow.

Liz tried to use PayPal for billing but found it difficult to automate. She then looked at other services and discovered Ecwid, which was easy to use without needing a strong tech background.

Liz was able to easily input her products, pictures, delivery fees, and the specific zip codes where she delivers into her online store using Ecwid. Plus, Ecwid automatically calculates the sales tax, which also helped a lot.

Getting Through the Pandemic

Gradually Forty Acres Fresh Market established credibility within the community, which resulted in people turning to them for fresh produce. The pandemic then hit, causing stores to sell out and people to avoid going to grocery stores. This led to an increase in subscribers to Forty Acres Fresh Market. The quick pivot to using Ecwid a month or two before the pandemic struck was crucial to their success in gaining and sustaining new subscribers.

Leveraging Ecwid Features

Liz finds Ecwid especially helpful for staffing. It allows her to easily manage the business calendar to determine the number of boxes they need to pack each day and how much labor is required. While some subscribers may cancel their subscriptions, the overall addition of new customers means that the business is still growing.

The business appreciates the usefulness of Ecwid for marketing and messaging purposes. Plus, the customer notes feature also helped the business gain reputability, as customers could give specific delivery instructions and request certain items while noting any allergies.

Incorporating Product Discovery into Their Subscriptions

Initially, Liz allowed customers to choose individual produce items, but they noticed that customers were not choosing certain inventory items. To address this issue, her team began offering produce boxes with a surprise selection of items, giving them more control over inventory and creating a subscription model. The business ended up seeing an increase in demand for the flat-rate produce box model. Customers have given positive feedback to the business for introducing them to new fruits and vegetables they wouldn’t usually buy.

Working on the Brick-and-Mortar Location

Liz acknowledges that commercial real estate development is difficult and full of surprises but emphasizes that having a permanent brick-and-mortar presence is key to her mission of food equity in underserved neighborhoods. Despite the challenges, there is potential for growth and profit in the grocery industry if done correctly.

Learn more about Forty Acres Fresh Market and make sure to support them if you’re located in Chicago:

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