A Chicago-based startup that has created vending machines offering healthy food options recently brought the concept to St. Louis.
The startup, Farmer’s Fridge, in recent weeks launched its first vending machines locally and it is expanding to 13 locations in St. Louis. The expansion into St. Louis marks a homecoming of sorts for the brand, as Farmer’s Fridge’s founder and CEO Luke Saunders is a graduate of Washington University.
Founded in 2013, Farmer’s Fridge operates with more than 500 vending machine locations in 20-plus cities. The venture-backed company stocks its fridges with its own collection of salads, sandwiches, wraps, bowls, snacks and beverages. It says all of its meals cost $10 or less. In addition to vending machines, Farmer’s Fridge also offers home delivery and sells its products through select retailers.
Farmer’s Fridge says its vending machines use technology that manages its inventory, sales trends and the freshness of its items.
In St. Louis, Farmer’s Fridge currently has two vending machines at Washington University and one vending machine each at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and John J. Cochran Veterans Hospital. Beginning Sept. 26, it will begin selling its products in nine locations at St. Louis Lambert International Airport. It is also offering delivery in St. Louis.
As it started operations in St. Louis, Farmer’s Fridge hired two local drivers and is currently seeking to add a third. Saunders said the local headcount could expand as Farmer’s Fridge’s operations grow in the St. Louis region. The startup has about 300 total employees.
While at WashU, Saunders studied international studies and Chinese. His path to entrepreneurship began while he worked as a metal finishing salesman. In that role, he covered a four-state territory and says he would drive about 1,000 miles a week. During those trips, he struggled to find healthy meals, with fast food restaurants and gas stations being his primary options to grab a bite.
“I started thinking a lot about how I could get healthier meals to more places and backed into the idea that if we made it all in one place and then distributed it through a network of smart vending, we could create a better customer experience, manage the inventory better and put it in places where restaurants and other food service option couldn’t go and at times of day when things currently weren’t open,” Saunders said.
His company’s expansion to St. Louis brings him both personal and professional satisfaction, Saunders said, noting he’s wanted to go to WashU and get a picture of its vending machines here to “really enjoy that full circle moment.”
The addition of St. Louis also adds to the company’s milestones.
“Being able to actually prove we could get it to places outside of Chicago and bring it into different cities across the Midwest has been a huge accomplishment,” he said.
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