Daily Harvest, the online smoothie and meal delivery service known both for its emphasis on fruits and vegetables and for its ubiquitous digital ads, debuts its first offline tasting room today in Lincoln Park, where customers can try out items before they buy, get help from humans to choose a meal plan, and pick up food to take home.
“It’s a chance to interact with customers offline,” says Rachel Drori, the company’s founder. “It’s about getting people to taste the food. We’re meeting customers where they are.”
The Daily Harvest model currently consists of those customers ordering food online, which is delivered to them frozen and packed in dry ice. It’s entirely possible to eat that food for every meal: in addition to the smoothies, there are oat and chia breakfast bowls; flatbreads, curries, and stews that bake in the oven; cookie dough-like snack bites; lattes and frozen cubes of almond milk; and ice cream. But with the Tasting Room, the hope is that the company will not only be able to sell to customers directly, but also to show off the bestsellers and test and get feedback on new items.
The Tasting Room was originally scheduled to open in April of 2020, in Chicago because there was already a customer base, but also plenty of room to build what Drori calls “brand awareness.” Like everyone else, Daily Harvest pivoted: the team hosted virtual conversations with customers via Zoom and staged a series of pop-ups in Chicago, New York, and LA. But as the pandemic dragged on, Drori decided there would probably never be an ideal time to open and now was as good a time as any.
Located on the stretch of Armitage between Halsted and Sheffield that’s become home to several other companies that began online, including Warby Parker, Outdoor Voices, and Interior Define, the Tasting Room occupies a small storefront that’s mostly filled by a museum-like display set in an artificial jungle that explains Daily Harvest’s philosophy and sourcing. There’s no seating. Screens displaying menus and pictures of food hang on the walls, and dance music plays over the loudspeaker. In the very back, near the kitchen, there’s a small window where customers can order and pay for their food.
The company, as everyone who has seen the ads knows, began five years ago when Drori, who was then working for the online shopping company Gilt Groupe, became frustrated that, while she knew the basics of nutrition and what she should be eating — more fruits and vegetables — she didn’t have the time to prepare healthy meals and resorted to eating junk instead. “The system was broken,” she says. “We had to rethink the food system instead of fixing it.” She believes that if everyone eats just one more serving of fruit or vegetables a day, both humans and the planet will be better off.
Drori had studied the politics of food in college and began working directly with farmers to source ingredients for Daily Harvest’s smoothies, bowls, and flatbreads. She wanted organic produce, frozen within 24 hours. She chose farmers who were underrepresented — that is, women and Black, Indigenous, and people of color — who were working on land that was at risk, specifically California, which has been suffering from wildfires. Daily Harvest helps those farmers transition from conventional to organic farming methods and offers grants and opportunities to sell their produce directly to the company.
Daily Harvest is not inexpensive: smoothies start at $7.99 apiece and bake-at-home meals are $11.99, prices comparable to takeout, but far more than raw ingredients from a supermarket. In order to give a better return on the investment, Tasting Room employees have been trained to identify customers’ tastes with a few basic questions — “Do you want a meal or a snack?” “When do you usually start craving food?” “Salty or sweet?” — and then bring out samples of products they’re likely to enjoy.
The sampling benefits Daily Harvest, too: “It’s real-time feedback,” says Drori. “We find out who likes it, who it’s for, what’s important, if we should dial up the salt or the cherry flavor.” The company is still small enough that within a few weeks, adjustments should be apparent to customers.
Eventually, Drori hopes to open more Tasting Rooms across the country. “We make food for individuals,” she says. “We want to find out what people like.”
Daily Harvest Tasting Room, 854 W. Armitage Avenue, Open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.