BELLVILLE, Ill. — When a regional chain gobbled up five independent grocery stores, it swallowed almost half of the revenue stream of the Bellville Farmers Market, a small produce wholesaler just across the Illinois state line from St. Louis.
The 40-year-old family owned business still had a few other accounts and a healthy walk-in retail business from loyal locals, but owner Dan Schwendeman thought he might have to lay off general manager Rick Delashmit to make ends meet.
“My wife and I talked about it and we knew Rick had a lot of ideas, so we kept him on and asked him to come up with something, anything, we could try to replace the lost business,” Schwendeman said. “He came up with FruitMyCube and we can’t believe how it took off.”
Delashmit said the general push for Americans to eat more fresh produce coupled with corporations’ increasing emphasis on health and wellness programs for employees gave him the inspiration for FruitMyCube. Initially he thought businesses would buy cube-shaped boxes so that employees could grab a piece of fresh fruit and take it to their work cubicles as a healthy alternative to vending machine snacks.
“Rick went at it hard, pitching the idea to HR departments and at health fairs around the metro area,” Schwendeman said.
The idea caught on, but not quite as planned.
Some of the 200,000 cubes sold since June 2010 were bought by employers. However, the majority of cubes are bought online by individuals — 22,000 unique buyers placed order in 2011. The 6- to 7-pound FruitMyCube Classic, with 15-17 pieces of fruit, was an instant hit at $10.99, including delivery.
Delashmit and Schwendeman ended up renting trucks and hiring drivers for the Monday deliveries and soon added Tuesday deliveries to meet demand. FruitMyCube business has more than replaced the lost wholesale revenue.
Delashmit runs the Web orders with the help of a smart phone and proprietary software to help with order and delivery tracking. When a driver drops off cubes, Delashmit receives a text message and notifies customers by e-mail. Orders can be made online or by telephone.
Some customers wanted a smaller option, so in January the company launched FruitMyCube Mini with 7-9 pieces of fruit for $6.99. Delashmit said in late April the Bellville Farmers Market shipped about 500 tons of fresh produce in the recycled cardboard cubes.
On April 30, the company added the Market Crate, a rectangular box of about 15 pounds of fresh vegetables that includes locally grown squash, sweet corn and other commodities as they come in season. The crates sell for $19.99 delivered.
“We wanted to give customers an option to have our fresh vegetables as well as fruit,” Delashmit said April 30. “Initially we’re keeping quantities limited until we get into our homegrown season. We planned to sell 500 last week for delivery today. We sold that planned 500 in less than 24 hours.”
The concept has been so successful in the metropolitan St. Louis area, Schwendeman and Delashmit launched a FruitMyCube operation in Chicago this year. The cubes are packed in Bellville, Ill., and trucked to Chicago where they are priced slightly higher at $13.99 for the Classic and $8.99 for the Mini.