Ben Hartman is the senior category manager for perishables at Good Eggs, a Bay Area online grocery delivery service. Founded in 2011, Good Eggs specializes in primarily local, organic food and averages around 10,000 deliveries a week. Hartman joined OPN to talk about his background in produce, his work at Good Eggs, and his recent experience at the Organic Grower Summit.
Ben Hartman, Senior Category Manager, Good Eggs
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED WORKING IN THE PRODUCE INDUSTRY?
I’ve always been interested in fruits and veggies and plants. My dad had tomato plants in our garden growing up, and I just always appreciated the amazing way a tomato tastes when it is harvested at full maturity and coming out of your own garden. I spent a little bit of time when I was a teenager working and living on organic farms and went to college up in Portland, Oregon and spent a good amount of my free time there starting a small farm, more of a garden, that sold produce to the food service provider for our cafeteria. Through that experience, I got a very micro view into the economics of selling food. When I moved down to San Francisco in 2010, I was lucky enough to get a job as a produce clerk at a small retailer here called Bi-Rite Market that focuses on working with small and medium-sized growers, mainly organic growers.
HOW DID YOU END UP AT GOOD EGGS?
I’d always had my eye on Good Eggs as a really interesting model that was working with a lot of the same growers and suppliers that I was at Bi-Rite Market but in a space of e-commerce and home delivery that I thought would be really exciting to be part of, so when the position opened up at Good Eggs, I was very interested in it.
Good Eggs delivers "absurdly fresh groceries" to Bay Area homes
HOW MUCH OF GOOD EGGS’ PRODUCE IS ORGANIC?
The vast, vast majority of our produce is certified organic. I don’t have a hard statistic, but if I had to put a number to it, it would be in the 90-plus-percent range.
WHY DOES GOOD EGGS PRIORITIZE ORGANIC PRODUCE?
There are a few really important reasons for us. Number one is the idea of ecological sustainability. Wanting to avoid toxic pesticides that do damage to our overall ecosystem is something that I feel really passionately about, and I know a lot of our growers and our customers do too. The second reason—and I want to underscore that this one is oftentimes neglected or forgotten about—is pesticides are not only about the end consumer and what’s going into their mouths and their family’s mouths, but there’s a huge agricultural community working on or living in more rural areas who can be exposed to toxic pesticides. And then, of course, the third reason is the health of the consumer. Organic certification is really important to our customer, so she knows what has been used on the fruits and vegetables that she’s feeding to herself and her family.
Ben Hartman and the Good Eggs team focus on organic produce and local growers
WHAT’S THE DEMAND LIKE FOR ORGANIC PRODUCE AMONG YOUR CUSTOMERS? ANY TRENDS OR CUSTOMER FAVORITES?
For the most part, our customer base expects and demands organic produce. When we don’t have a certified organic version of something, we do have customers who write in asking for it.
As for some of the trends I’ve seen, we have a lot of customers who are interested in new or heirloom varieties. We worked with Full Belly Farm this year on moving through their entire crop of Candystick Delicata, which is a fantastic variety of delicata squash—really dark orange flesh with a date-like syrupy sweetness. Cape gooseberries are another item that we’ve been excited about over here and that we move through surprising volumes of. We have a fantastic grower in Los Osos called Swift Subtropicals that does cape gooseberries, pineapple guava, and passion fruit.
Another trend we’ve seen—and we’re really trying to stay ahead of the curve here—is on packaging. Our customer is more and more aware of just how much plastic goes into the general produce supply chain. It’s been amazing to see how much California produce can make it out to the rest of the country in great condition, but it’s also important to recognize that that’s come with a pretty heavy reliance on petroleum-based plastic packaging. I’ve been really excited to be working with some of those growers who are paving the way and piloting things like the Sambrailo ReadyCycle label out of Watsonville, which offers a cardboard-based compostable clamshell.
Good Eggs offers organic Candystick Delicata Squash from Full Belly Farm
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR SOURCING CRITERIA FOR ORGANIC PRODUCE?
For the most part, we tend to focus on local or regional growers for a number of reasons. Number one is when the product is coming from the local area, we’re contributing to our local economy and keeping those food dollars within our local food shed. Working with local growers also means that produce can be harvested that morning and brought to us that night, so we can work really closely with growers on harvesting at the peak of flavor.
Another thing we like to focus on is sourcing from farms that are that are able to support a year-round labor force. A lot of our industry is based off of folks needing to travel up and down the coast in order to follow the harvest, and while I recognize that’s hard to avoid with a lot of crops, I think it’s really meaningful when we work with a farm like Full Belly Farm who try to have as much year-round work as possible, whether that’s mechanical work on some of their machines or having a dry flower program. The need to travel up and down the coast means that people are oftentimes not able to see their family for many months at a time, and as much as possible, we want to be able to support people living with their families.
Ben Hartman at the 2019 Organic Grower Summit
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF YOUR JOB?
I love connecting with people—the days that I get to call a grower and spend even just 5 or 10 minutes talking about what their next couple of months looks like and what some of their challenges are and how we can support their continued growth and their continued success through our purchasing and our business.
SPEAKING OF CONNECTING WITH PEOPLE, YOU RECENTLY ATTENDED THE ORGANIC GROWER SUMMIT—HOW WAS IT?
OGS was a really interesting opportunity for me to understand and learn as much as I could about what our growers’ challenges are and what our growers are learning. There were some fantastic educational sessions—I learned some pretty awesome stuff about mycorrhizal inoculants (they improve soil health and the ability of plants to uptake nutrients). It’s stuff that is more technical than what I usually get into, but it helps me understand the mindset of our growers and some of their challenges and what we can do as buyers and partners to best support them in their efforts.
Good Eggs hosted several meetings with organic growers at OGS 2019
And we were lucky enough to participate in a couple days of “Meet the Buyer” time where OGS set us up with a room where we were kind of speed dating with a lot of growers. To be able to sit down with somebody for 10 minutes in the flesh and talk to them is a rare commodity these days, so that was really nice. Overall, OGS was a really great opportunity to learn more about the production side of the business that we on the retail side don’t always get to spend a huge amount of our time paying attention to.