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When libraries, coffee shops, gyms, and other non-essential businesses started to close during the pandemic in late March, Donna Williams knew she had a big problem. Field Goods, the Athens-based company she founded in 2011 to help connect local farmers directly with customers, relied on those very gathering spaces for its distribution. Every week, her team delivered personalized orders of local produce and other artisanal products to over 700 community pickup sites in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Now those sites were shuttering in droves. “Our entire business was going to disappear,” she says.
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In addition to the health of her own business, Williams and her team were also worried about the over 200 farms and local producers they partnered with. Many of them relied on Field Goods as a major sales channel and were already losing significant restaurant business. “We did not want to drop the ball and walk away from them,” says Marketing and Logistics Director Jesse Tolz.
So the small Field Goods team got to work transitioning their entire business to a long-discussed concept for home delivery called StockUp. “Luckily for us we had the guts, if you will, for home delivery,” Williams says. “We already had the ability to pack products, the network of vendors, the vans for delivery, and the staff to support it.”
In just over a week, Field Goods phased out their last pickup locations and introduced customers to the new delivery ordering system, which they custom-designed to accommodate almost daily changes to the highly seasonal inventory. "Everyone on our team was working around the clock seven days a week trying to mitigate the progressive disaster of hemorrhaging pickup sites," says Tolz. "And in the middle of all this, we were building a new website that could facilitate the type of ecommerce experience that people have become used to."
The unexpected pivot resulted in a wave of new customers. With more people cooking and eating at home during the pandemic, the company also significantly expanded their portfolio of products to meet those needs. As dry goods like flour, rice, pasta, and beans became scarce in grocery stores, Field Goods was suddenly inundated with calls from suppliers whose cratered restaurant sales had left them with surplus product. So up went products like five-pound bags of Sfoglini pasta, an organic brand known for using New York State-grown grains.
- Image courtesy of Field Goods
For the first time, they also added meat, fish, and dairy from local vendors like Catsmo Artisan Smokehouse and Hudson Valley Fresh. They even started selling vegetable plants like peppers and tomatoes for people to grow in their own gardens. “There was such a demand for food of any type,” Williams says. “We were just experimenting and throwing everything up there. We got really scrappy in ways that we didn’t expect.”
As businesses begin to reopen this June, Williams and her team are slowly exploring how to reintroduce their pickup-based model. But the expansion into home delivery is here to stay, along with a much larger product list and bulk and frozen goods that people can stock up on for weeks at a time. “A lot of innovation comes out in these types of circumstances,” Williams says. “You plan for six months to do what we did in a week and a half. It just doesn't happen."