Thursday, April 17, 2014
By AVERY YALE KAMILA
Time-crunched healthy eaters have a new way to get their hands on fresh fruits and vegetables. In April, Casco Bay Organics, a southern Maine grocery home delivery service, launched with a full array of organic and locally-sourced produce.
Casco Bay Organics owner Jillian Hilton delivers a small box of fresh produce to a home in Portland.
Photo by David Zwickerhill/Zwickerhill Photography
TO LEARN MORE about Casco Bay Organics, visit cascobayorganics.com.
"There's no contract," says entrepreneur Jillian Hilton, who runs the business from a Falmouth warehouse. "You can sign up and pick your start date -- weekly or biweekly. If you're on vacation, you can skip that week."
Customers order one of three size boxes, which they tailor online to meet their needs each week. Hilton and her boyfriend, the site's software engineer Wayne Pierson, fill each order and deliver the boxes on Thursdays.
When customers log in to their online account, they see the farm each item came from and how far it traveled in the form of food miles.
"Right now it's 90 percent local," said Hilton, 31, who has a background in finance.
Hilton says the most difficult certified organic food to find in Maine is fruit. Then, of course, there are items such as bananas and avocados, which don't grow in Maine.
"I can't get bananas in Maine, but people go bananas for bananas," Hilton joked.
To satisfy customers' banana and other imported food needs, she orders from distributor Native Maine Produce and Specialty Foods. Hilton also buys local produce from Crown O' Maine Organic Cooperative. The two distributors, coupled with direct sales from local farms, give her access to a full range of organic fruit and vegetables.
Liz Warren of Portland is one customer who appreciates having fresh organic produce just a click away. She signed up for the service two months ago and said she is very happy she did. Her family of four follows a mostly raw, vegan diet and recently upped its standing order to two large boxes each week.
"Casco Bay Organics meets our needs by allowing us to choose what size box, list what produce we like and don't like and permit us to make up to five substitutions each week -- all this without subscription fees or delivery fees," Warren said. "We can even skip a week if we want and can cancel at any time, although we never will."
Warren recently convinced her in-laws to sign up for the service, as well.
"It is so easy to share something good, and Casco Bay Organics is doing something good: supporting local farms and delivering affordable organic produce at a reasonable cost," Warren said. "They are quick to please and make ordering so easy."
Melissa Morin of South Portland shares Warren's enthusiasm.
"I would definitely recommend it," said Morin, who signed up for Casco Bay Organics when the company launched and has her weekly box delivered to her office. "It's a great service. Give it a try. The first box is discounted, and if you decide it's not for you, you're off the hook."
Customers order small, medium or large boxes, with the prices ranging from $29 to $53 per week. Hilton said a small box works for singles, medium is sized for couples and the large box feeds families or two vegetarians.
Hilton declined to share sales figures or how many customers she has, but she did say "we've quadrupled in size since the first week."
Hilton discovered home grocery delivery when she moved to California a couple years ago and her friend Corey Tufts, a native of Cape Elizabeth, started Golden Gate Organics in San Francisco. She subscribed to the service and had her groceries delivered to the sailboat where she lived. When she returned to Maine, Hilton was inspired to launch a similar business using the same software platform Pierson created for Golden Gate Organics.
Home grocery delivery is a growing trend across the country. While the 2012 "U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends" report by the Food Marketing Institute found that only 4 percent of shoppers have purchased fresh produce online, 54 percent have purchased other grocery items online.
Many of the companies in the growing field are small start-ups like Casco Bay Organics and Golden Gate Organics. But larger ventures such as Farmigo and Relay Foods have entered the market backed by significant venture capital. Meanwhile, industry giants, including Walmart and Amazon, appear poised to rollout nationwide home delivery of fresh produce.
Convenience is the main appeal of these services, but it's also a way for shoppers to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. Recent research shows that using a grocery delivery service cuts carbon dioxide emissions by 25 to 75 percent because an efficiently routed truck consumes less fuel than each of us driving our own car to the grocery store.
Currently the service is centered around Portland, but Casco Bay Organic's delivery range stretches to Waterford, Biddeford, Windham and Freeport.
"I deliver to homes, business and schools," Hilton said. "And I donate the rest of the produce at the end of day to the Preble Street Resource Center."
Each customer gives instructions on where to leave his or her delivery and they're encouraged to leave coolers out if the company must leave their produce outside.
Being a small start-up, Hilton said she makes sure her customer service is top-notch. She'll even check with customers to make sure there wasn't a mistake if an order shows up for all of one item.
"I cannot say enough about Jillian and her team," Warren said. "They are so responsive to questions and have a passion for our local community of Maine farmers."
It's clear Hilton has a passion for connecting shoppers with local and organic produce. She also has a passion for Maine.
While she grew up in Massachusetts, she moved to Maine when she was 19 and says, "Maine feels like my home."
Avery Yale Kamila lives in Portland, where she eats organic fruits and veggies and writes about health food. She can be reached at: