Caroline Gray is a New Orleans native and local food activist who wholeheartedly believes that “a better world can be delicious.” In under 2 years, she has helped Good Eggs more than double its operations, connecting over 200 local food producers to communities through its online green market, or “foodhub”. We talk with her about what happens when an innovative delivery system meets a city renowned for its creativity and culinary traditions.
Interview by Victoria Mckenzie
Sustainable Food | Local Producers | Online Shopping | Green Technology | B Corp
Income inequality in New Orleans is ranked the 2nd worst in the nation. Why was NOLA chosen to be next Good Eggs foodhub?
“New Orleans is deeply rooted in food. We have a rich culinary history on top of a community that is fiercely local. Folks around here have been supporting local businesses for decades, so it’s not necessarily a new trend. The biggest motivation was to see if this innovative model could work and scale in socio-economically diverse cities across the country. Our founders wanted a more mixed-income city, so the diverse population and demographic make-up was by no means a deterrent. We’ve gained and shared so much knowledge from operating in 4 different cities—each hub faces a unique set of challenges, but often they’re very similar.”
In what ways has online food distribution had a visible affect on the local food economy?
“It’s certainly shaking things up. We’ve built the Good Eggs model around our mission to grow and sustain local food systems, which means we’re deeply rooted in the communities we serve. We’ve created a new outlet for 200+ small-scale, local farmers and foodmakers in and around the New Orleans area to sell fresh, sustainably made food—no matter how small their operation—directly to the local community. In turn, this transaction keeps dollars circulating in the local economy, helps small-scale producers scale up and invest in their businesses, and best of all, brings the freshest, tastiest food available to your doorstep. You know where the food came from, how it was made, and you can talk to the folks who made it. Try getting this much information from a traditional grocery store—it’s nearly impossible!
“Of course, there are some products that simply cannot be grown or made in this region, so we’ve connected with our network of producers in other cities to ensure we’re providing shoppers with a full basket grocery shopping experience. For example, we carry California-based Other Brother Co.’s olive oil in the New Orleans marketplace. Likewise, our other foodhubs source raw sugar from our very own Three Brothers Farm since Louisiana is one of the few states that can grow sugar cane. Transparency is a huge part of our mission, and so far it’s helping create strong, local alternatives to the massive industrial corporations that have monopolized our food systems. As a result, we’re creating and influencing thousands of food-related jobs, in our foodhubs and in the farms & food businesses that we work with. Each of our four foodhubs is independently run by local teams who are passionate about our mission.”
Have you seen first-time “cottage” producers who went into business because of Good Eggs?
“Absolutely. We have had several first-time producers launch their businesses on Good Eggs. It’s the perfect platform for folks to test out the waters. Producers can list whatever they have, whether it be 5 heads of cabbage or 100. It’s awesome to see these producers scale up. Bakery Noblé was our first cottage food producer, and folks can’t get enough of their gluten-free baked goods—the queso cakes are truly divine. Lilly Jane started off making jams, jellies, and marmalades, and has since been able to move into a commercial kitchen to prepare crawfish étouffée, quiches & more. Big Easy Bucha is another great example. Just last summer, they launched their business & began selling kombucha in small-batches exclusively on Good Eggs. In just a little over six months, they’ve moved into a bigger production facility, expanded into several new retail outlets, and introduced a new flavor. It’s a pleasure to watch!”
What are some products offered by the NOLA food hub that you just can’t find anywhere else? What makes this foodhub different from the other Good Eggs foodhubs in character, personality, and taste?
“The vast majority of our products can’t be found in traditional grocery stores, but you will find many of them at farmers’ markets—another vital sales channel for small-scale farmers and foodmakers. We also offer some products that cannot be found anywhere else in New Orleans, like Poirier’s small-batch Cane Syrup, Hollywood Livestock’s meats, and Moonshine’s quiches and pies, to name a few.
“Our foodhubs are distinguished by the selection of products and producers native to that particular region. In New Orleans, we’re blessed with a rich, bountiful selection of fresh, Gulf seafood. The winter is prime time for the juiciest, most delicious citrus––particularly satsumas and blood oranges. Ponchatoula strawberries arrive soon after. You definitely get a sense of the local culture and cuisine from a quick glance through the marketplace.”
Do you set any packaging standards for your vendors?
“We have strong criteria for the packaging we use internally, as well as for the food sold on Good Eggs. We’re completely transparent about our practices, and we expect the same from our producers. We’ve also invested in reusable cold packaging—handy ice packs and insulated sleeves—to keep groceries in top shape. We collect and reuse ice packs and silver insulated sleeves, as well as any producer containers with a deposit (which we refund upon receipt).”
Good Eggs is a B-Corporation. How does that affect the focus of your daily operations?
“Our mission and the success of our business have always been aligned with the change we want to see in the world for the benefit of local food systems. This B Corp certification is a testament to that and also creates further alignment among everyone involved in the company—from our stakeholders and team to our producers and our customers. B Corporations undergo a rigorous audit and certification process to ensure they’re meeting high standards of transparency and accountability, along with social and environmental responsibility, so we’re thrilled that our work in these areas are being recognized publicly.”
Do you have any programs to include lower income customers, something similar to Market Match?
“Yes—improving access to nutritious, affordable food is the kind of social impact we believe in. We’ve built Good Eggs to always be part of the communities we serve. To that extent, we were recently approved as a SNAP retailer, and we’re actively looking at other ways that we can achieve food access in a genuine, meaningful way. Everyone is encouraged to get involved with the local food access and justice community in their areas, whether it’s attending local food policy council meetings or events that bring food access leaders together—we really believe that these relationships and partnerships are the foundation to doing meaningful work in this area.”
What’s your favorite Good Eggs NOLA success story?
“Last year, we partnered with Kiva Zip, the US branch of Kiva.org, in an effort to help our producers scale more easily without the burden of high-interest rate loans. Kiva Zip is a peer-to-peer microlending program that facilitates crowdsourced zero-interest loans worldwide. It’s a wonderful program, and we’re proud to have successfully endorsed three NOLA-based producers, all of whom met their goals. So far, it’s helped our producers build out physical shops, purchase cooking and food storage equipment, design new packaging, and more. Garrison Landry of Hollywood Livestock applied for a $10,000 loan so he could install a walk-in freezer and increase his production capacity—he reached his goal in less than 45 days!”
To learn more about the NOLA foodhub, visit GoodEggs.com