Single-mom Larissa Rogers and her son Kai moved from Austin to rural Fredericksburg, Texas, in early 2020 after Larissa found herself out of work in Austin. In Fredericksburg, Larissa took a job as a server and started working part-time in a retail store to try to make ends meet for her, Kai, and their dog. Then the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns hit. Both the restaurant and the store closed leaving Larissa with no way to bring in any income—and making it nearly impossible to put healthy food on the table.
Enter Thrive Market, an online, healthy food marketplace that launched in 2014. Customers join the membership, buy their groceries and other products online at affordable prices, then get their groceries delivered anywhere in the country. In March, demand for Thrive Market’s memberships and deliveries surged as people were forced into their homes due to Covid-19 restrictions, and looked to grocery-delivery companies to access healthy food.
At the same time, seeing the devastating economic impact that the COVID-19 restrictions were having on communities across the country, the company knew it needed to do more. Thrive Market posted in March that anyone in need of assistance could submit a video to be considered for a free Thrive Market membership and a grocery stiped.
Read more from the Business is... series for Other ways the business community is stepping up in times of need.
The idea of providing free memberships for those in need isn’t new to Thrive Market. The company’s business model relies on members paying $5 a month to shop the online food store, and for every membership purchased, a free membership is given to a family in need. There has also always been an option at checkout that allows members to donate to food-related causes.
A few weeks into the coronavirus pandemic, donations had skyrocketed with members wanting to do all they could to help impacted families. Thrive Market decided to shift its entire donation model to supporting families impacted by the pandemic and established the COVID-19 Relief Fund. All funds would go toward the individuals sending in messages and videos in need of healthy groceries delivered to their door.
“As we looked across the country and saw what was happening with employment levels, and the inquiries that we were getting from families that were really struggling, we thought we got to do more,” said Nick Green, co-founder and CEO of Thrive Market. “Literally we saw nine times the typical donate-at-checkout rates that we'd seen before the pandemic. We were raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in just a matter of weeks.”
Inspired by the generosity of the Thrive Market membership base, in late April Green decided to donate the remainder of his 2020 salary to the relief fund. As thousands of messages and videos poured in, the company has been able to step up to meet the need of every single one, including Larissa and Kai.
“I want to thank you for putting an outreach forward to families in need; we definitely consider ourselves one right now,” Larissa said in her submission video. “My son doesn’t have anyone to take care of him if I become sick, so it's more critical than ever that I stay home to keep myself well and keep him well. Fredericksburg is a small city and there aren’t many grocery delivery services like we used to have in Austin... thank you for doing this.”
As the pandemic continued through the spring and summer months, Thrive Market alerted customers of more ways to donate, announced philanthropic partnerships, and shared examples of the real people who the company’s efforts were helping. Drawing on existing partnerships, Thrive Market partnered with organizations championing food access, food banks, and non-profits to make sure healthy essentials continued to get to communities in need through the pandemic.
Over 31,000 families and 700 first responders have been helped by Thrive Market’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, and more than $200,000 has gone to providing 64,000 healthy frozen meals to the company’s local communities in South Los Angeles and Jackson County, Mississippi.
Plus, inspired by Larissa’s story and after learning more about her background and experience, Thrive Market hired Larissa full-time to their member services team to ensure she wouldn’t have to worry about keeping healthy food on the table for her family any longer.
Scaling Up Safely
Continuing to give back during the pandemic was a priority from the start, but the biggest immediate focus for Thrive Market was making sure the employees in the company’s fulfillment centers could stay safe while getting the surge in deliveries out, says Green.
Green announced to the entire company as sales started to surge that Thrive Market would be proactive in social distancing, requiring mask wearing, and doing temperature checks—and that leaders were making it a goal to be the safest place to work in the pandemic.
The surge for orders began in mid-March after President Donald Trump announced the European travel ban, and the next day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. “I can remember sitting there and just seeing our sales surge dramatically,” Green said.
Luckily, Thrive Market had started building up their online grocery inventory in key categories in mid-February. With 30% of the company's sales coming from its own brand, and tight relationships with a select number of other suppliers, the company's greater control over their supply chain allowed them to quickly scale up and keep products available.
“But in some ways, we were preparing for a storm of demand and what actually came was a 30-year-flood,” Green said. “Those preparations were helpful, and they certainly did get us better prepared than most, but when the deluge actually came, we had to respond very, very quickly.”
Although they faced some stock challenges, Thrive Market was able to keep products in stock at a level that the typical corner grocery stores may not have been able to. The surge started in very concentrated areas like canned food, toilet paper, and sanitizers. But as the lockdowns progressed, demand shifted to people just trying to get healthy good food and household products to their families without leaving their homes.
Business is... Becoming Accountable
The pandemic has been a challenge for the company, but it’s also been what Green describes as “a moment for our mission.” Health food access was an issue even before the pandemic. Half of American families don't live within driving distance of a health food store, and more than 90% can't afford the premium for organic, natural, sustainable products, Green says. COVID-19 just accelerated those trends and exacerbated some of the challenges of food access.
“Everyone's thinking about the safety and health of their family. Everybody is thinking about how they're going to access and put healthy food on the table. They're all thinking about how they're going to do it from home—and they're looking for partners that they can trust,” Green says.
Thrive Market experienced firsthand how during COVID-19 e-commerce accelerated and conscious consumption accelerated. With their own customers donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to help others, Green says he witnessed more than ever people wanting to be part of the solution and more attuned to solving the big problems—and that’s something that will stick around.
“The most important movement happening right now in capitalism is conscious consumers. If you have people that are demanding that companies show their values, and act with their values, and are ethical, and care about their impact on society, then companies will do it,” Green says. “Over the next decades as consumers become more conscious, and increasingly hold businesses accountable, it's going to become the norm.”
For more information on the Covid-19 Relief Fund’s impact and Thrive Market’s healthy food access initiatives visit thrivemarket.com/blog.