There’s a new way to make groceries in New Orleans. You can do it from home. In front of your computer. And your shopping bags will be filled with farm-to-market, artisan produce and staples, grown regionally in accepted slow food, locovore style. And then delivered to your front stoop. Good Eggs came to New Orleans a year ago, as one of the first expansion projects of a start-up online grocery shopping company in San Francisco. “The creators wanted to see if the model could work in other cities,” says Good Eggs task manager Simone Reggie. “They wanted a good mixed-income, off-the-beaten-path place. So they came to New Orleans.” The idea is to support and sustain local food purveyors by giving them a way to sell directly to the public using an online interface. “When we asked local food vendors what their biggest struggle was, they said they wanted to connect to customers in a technological world,” Reggie explains. In addition to New Orleans and San Francisco, Good Eggs now also operates in Los Angeles and Brooklyn, with each site selling regional goods produced by area chefs and farmers. The plan is to cross-market items, so that, say, Louisiana’s Three Brothers sugar would be available in San Francisco, or California virgin olive oil here. “It’s incredible, because we can expand our local sugar maker into a national market,” says Reggie.
The New Orleans branch of Good Eggs has come a long way from its modest beginnings just a year ago, when Reggie and business partner Tess Monaghan started the business in a 200-square-foot office. They now are housed in a 4,500 square-foot warehouse on Tchoupitoulas Street, where the inner workings resemble a cross between a busy industrial shipping concern and a laid-back food co-op. Their staff of two has grown to 29. Plastic bins line the old-brick walls, some filled with products like pecan oil, tomato wraps or homemade gnocchi, others bearing computer labels inked with customer names and orders. iMacs line the farm tables, where dispatchers and others oversee orders, communicate with purveyors and customers, set up delivery routes and troubleshoot problems. Across the back wall are refrigerator cases and a kitchen, where the in-house chef prepares a noontime lunch for everyone on the premises. Workers stop to eat, commune, and chat in this family-style setting, where visitors, too, are ushered to a spot at a table. Because, explains Reggie, “We feel it’s important to take some time out to get to know one another.” “It’s the perk of a lifetime,” said marketing director Caroline Gray, over a lunch that included a fish spread made from Creole cream cheese and Des Allemands catfish and cherry tomatoes from Grow Dat Youth Farm in City Park. So how does this new kind of shopping experience work? Customers go online to choose what they want from more than 100 local vendors, offering everything from berries to hand-rolled pasta. “This is not a special occasion kind of food. There are some artisan products, but we also have rice, beef, pasta, dairy products and other staples.” Orders have to be placed a minimum of 32 hours in advance. Once the order window closes, the purveyors send the goods to Good Eggs, where workers sort it, package it and then send it out to the individual customers; delivery is offered seven days a week. Clients also can pick up their orders at Good Eggs stations at various points in the city. The site’s software calculates everything, from stock availability to orders to delivery windows. “The vendors set their own inventory,” Reggie explains. “If a strawberry farmer knows that he will have 15 pints of fresh berries, he lets us know and, when we’ve sold the 15 pints, they disappear from the list. Anything that comes into our warehouse goes out to customers that afternoon. There’s a lot less waste.” Vendors set their own prices. Online cost includes a 30 percent transaction and delivery fee for Good Eggs, so that the price you see on the screen is a bottom-line one. “You’re much more in tune with the price when you shop online,” says Gray. “When you’re individually adding products online, you’re more aware of the price. The Good Eggs customer base ranges from young professionals to retirees. The word spreads, as it so often does in New Orleans, organically. “I met one guy in Audubon Park who told me that he sits down with his three kids in front of the computer every Sunday, and they go through the site, planning their meals for the week,” says Reggie. “He was a carpenter, so I asked him if he ever made cutting boards. He said he’d always wanted to, so now we sell his cutting boards.” New Orleans, while a smaller market than those of other Good Eggs locations, is ripe for this kind of hyperlocal shopping experience, believe these entrepreneurs. It is, after all, a fiercely local city. “There’s such a sense of local pride here,” says Reggie. “After Katrina, it was so easy to move. So if people came here, it was because they truly loved it. People who are here now are invested in the city.” Drop-ins are not unusual at Good Eggs – whether would-be purveyors, like the ice cream maker who popped in last week (they now sell his homemade blends) or would-be customers (informal warehouse tours are offered the first Wednesday of every month). The outflow is growing, too. Good Eggs delivers groceries to up to 100 customers each day, and now serves the north shore as well as metropolitan New Orleans. Customers can elect to have products left on the doorstep if they aren’t home; cold products are packed in insulated sleeves with ice packs (which are recycled back through the production line). Orders have tripled and the staff has doubled since the beginning of the year, and Reggie and Monaghan are already visualizing the next step: a 12,000 square-foot space where they can keep up with demand. “We couldn’t even have imagined how far we have come,” says Tess. “New Orleanians are hungry for this kind of service.”