These days, you can buy almost anything you want online and have it delivered to your home. In turn, the Internet has changed the way that many people shop for groceries. While many online grocers offer the specialty products that people seek, they may also tack on surcharges and do other things that keep the consumer from getting the best deal possible. But then there’s Direct Eats…
Often referred to as “the Etsy of gluten-free, vegan and organic food,” Direct Eats stands out from competitors like Amazon, FreshDirect and Thrive Market. It does not have any membership or annual dues. It will price match if a cheaper retail price is found elsewhere. Shipping is free, yes, even if you’ve ordered a four-pack of peanut butter. Coupon codes are out there. And beyond economics, Direct Eats lets users shop by their dietary needs, easily sorting products by categories including “gluten-free,” “paleo,” “vegan,” “GMO-free,” “lactose-free” and “kosher.”
CEO and founder David Hack spoke to Downtown about the inspiration behind the Connecticut-based Direct Eats and plenty more. Direct Eats is David’s fifth start-up, as he had previously worked with Pave Life, Portero, AHA Group, and Your Revolution. He has also created multi-million dollar partnerships with some of America’s largest brands including Amazon, Google, eBay, and Pepsi.
Is this your first food-related venture?
David Hack: Yes.
Where did the inspiration for Direct Eats come from?
DH: My wife wanted to buy Luna Bars at Whole Foods when she realized you couldn’t buy a whole box of them at this time. Same thing at Trader Joe’s. We wanted a box of these individual bars but we could only buy them one bar at a time. That’s when we realized there had to be a better way to buy specialty, natural and organic food in larger quantities on a day-to-day basis.
Prior to starting up Direct Eats, where did you do most of your grocery shopping?
DH: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Costco — same as many people who are cost-aware and health-minded.
When did you first become interested in organic foods?
DH: Over the past few years I think the whole population has become more aware of the benefits of organic foods, and demand transparency and honesty in what they are consuming. I’ve found myself a part of this emerging space as it has become more of public knowledge. It isn’t always readily available, which is why I want to help everyone have access to it.
A lot of our readers are members of FreshDirect, Amazon Fresh and Thrive Market, which are all membership-based. Aside from the lack of a subscription requirement, what makes Direct Eats stand out from other online grocers?
DH: We offer a home run to consumers.
Besides having no membership fees, we always offer the best prices and free shipping with no minimum order, and our incredible selection of 20,000 better-for-you products are shoppable by 17 different diet and lifestyle filters such as gluten-free, vegan, dairy-free, making it incredibly easy for shoppers to find what they need and love.
Do you consider yourself an online grocer? Or is there a better way to describe what you do?
DH: We like to think of ourselves as an “online marketplace” for organic and natural products. The majority of what we offer is non-perishable, yet we are still serving as an online farmers market, as you’re able to shop from more than 300 local makers from all over the country, while also finding brands you know and love for food and health & beauty products.
Does Direct Eats ship everywhere? Only just anywhere within the United States?
DH: We ship anywhere in the continental U.S. for free. ALWAYS.
What is your favorite item for sale on Direct Eats?
DH: I like to try out the newest protein bars and healthier snacks we add each month. Right now I really like the Purefit Protein Bars.
How can a food product be accepted to be part of your site? Is there specific criteria?
DH: Yes, there are a set of standards that every product sold on our site must meet. We believe the best ingredients make the best products, so that’s why we don’t sell anything made with “the bad stuff.” We filter out any harmful or questionable ingredients and nutrients from everything we sell, for example no artificial colors or flavors, hydrogenated oils, and no acetone, formaldehyde, or aluminum for health and beauty products.
What is the most challenging part of running Direct Eats?
DH: Meeting customers’ needs and providing them with an exceptional, intuitive online shopping experience that simplifies their life is our continual challenge and inspiration for constantly-evolving directeats.com. How can we simplify life for a working mom? A person with severe food allergies? A freshman in college? And really anyone who wants to take a step and shop just a bit healthier or try something new.
It can also be hard to get feedback from customers, but I think the idea is letting them know that you’re here and you’re available to listen to what they are looking for.
Are there plans for Direct Eats to make any of its own products in the future?
DH: Unlike Thrive Market or Whole Foods or even Costco, we will never undercut our makers by offering our own brand name. We want to be a farmers market online that gives every individual maker the opportunity to succeed on our platform. We’re not here to see how well their products sell as a test, and then make our own version and take over. That’s a rigged system, and it’s not what we’re about. We are making local, national with these smaller makers. We won’t make our own product when they already make the best.
Are there other start-ups that you’re currently involved with?
DH: Not at this time.
When you’re not busy with Direct Eats, how do you like to spend your free time?
DH: I spend my free time with my family. We have five kids, so you tell me if that’s still called “free time.” But really, family time is the best way to spend time.
When it comes to New York City, do you have a favorite restaurant?
How often do you find yourself in Manhattan?
DH: My wife and I used to live there from 2002 to 2003. Now I’m just there for the day every couple of weeks.
What was the last concert you attended in Manhattan?
DH: Elton John, perhaps? That was five kids ago, it’s been a while!
Finally, David, any last words for the kids?
DH: Dream big and work hard. It will always lead you to success.