Growing up with family chickens and a fully functioning organic garden, it’s little wonder Michelle Ritchie’s passion has always been food.
Her husband and partner Jim Ritchie is no different: his upbringing in the Pacific Northwest, where his grandfather had a local meatpacking business, filled him with an appreciation for quality local consumables. But after moving to San Francisco, he found it difficult to find a place like his family’s, where the Ritchies could easily procure a half-cow from a local, humane business.
Jim’s quest spurred a conversation between the couple at home, inspiring them both to quit their jobs and create a business venture aimed both at making it easer for people to find wholesome, hand-crafted food and at helping gourmet and artisan producers distribute their products. They’re calling it Delicious Karma, a name chosen to evoke the yumminess and goodness their project seeks to provide.
“I’m excited to see a raised level of education about food, because there’s just so much junk out there,” says Michelle Ritchie. “But on the grocery side, it’s really hard to get a product on the shelf. It’s hard for Clorox, so imagine how difficult it is for small artisans.”
Delicious Karma does all the legwork: providing potential buyers with products, along with stories about the vendors behind them and suggested recipes. It uses a very strict list of unacceptable ingredients to source items featured on the social Web site, similar to the list used by stores like Whole Foods, so consumers know what they’re getting. Michelle and Jim personally taste and approve every item.
“Really the idea is to make it easier for people to find and get connected with harder to find artisan and gourmet foods,” Michelle says.
On the other side, Delicious Karma also exists to make life easier (and more profitable) for food artisans. The small producers that the site represents typically don’t have business or marketing departments, or the know-how (some are just one- or two-person teams) to access new potential customers.
For approved vendors, Delicious Karma features a backend “vendor portal” to help them manage orders and shipments, providing them with real-time order details, a packing slip and pre-paid shipping label, so no one has to pay upfront. It also handles customer service on behalf of its suppliers and automatically sends a shipping email to customers when their handmade peppermint patties from Oregon or sushi-grade salmon from a sustainable farm in New Zealand are on the way to their door.
The company promotes and markets items, sort of like a traditional grocery store, offering specials when there’s something new to try and featuring products on social media or in email marketing campaigns to drive sales and awareness.
When a vendor is interested in being featured, it must review Delicious Karma's criteria, send food samples, pass the taste approval test, and watch a short presentation about the background and mission of the company. They will learn, for example, that 1 percent of the team's time, 1 percent of its profits, and 1 percent of its equity is donated to support its philanthropic partners, called Karma Kauses.
Then it’s a matter of negotiating pricing and quantity, with Delicious Karma paying wholesale prices for the product, as well as for shipping fees and labor. The Web site makes its money under the standard grocery store model, through modest markups and margin acquisition.
Social networks and technology enabled Delicious Karma to create a model that really could not have existed cost-effectively as recently as five years ago. The Ritchies bootstrapped the startup primarily so they could share their artisanal food passions -- like Chili Crunch, a Mexican condiment made from toasted chili flakes, garlic and onions in oil -- with others like them. “It’s a dream,” Michelle says. “It’s just amazing.”
Photo courtesy Delicious Karma