Boston Operation Goes Small To Expand Big

April 30, 2018

When David Starr and Alden Bourne started a business in 2009, it was with the goal of providing healthy food options where none or few existed. That desire led them to form Berkshire Natural, which placed branded healthy vending machines in Boston, MA area high schools and delivered healthy office snacks to area businesses. However, demand for getting healthy, specialty snacks into the workplace continued. The pair decided the 365 nanomarket™ could provide a way to meet the increased demand in smaller locations.  

Healthy products drove expansion 

When Starr and Bourne first were looking at demand and how to expand, they noticed that it wasn't just healthier snacks that companies wanted, but premium items that were still affordable. "High end healthy products that buyers usually can’t find anywhere except Whole Foods appeal to the educated consumers around Boston," David Starr, Berkshire Natural founding/managing partner said. "In particular in the last year and a half we’ve seen tremendous interest from offices in supplying these types of healthy and specialty foods to employees." 

Micro markets seemed to be a perfect solution to the growing demand as it allowed Berkshire Natural to sell specialty items such as microwaveable fresh meals, sandwiches and salads. "These are difficult items, and sometimes impossible, to vend in our refrigerated healthy vending machines," explained Starr. However, because many of Berkshire Natural's customers are small to midsize companies, the micro market had to be affordable and scalable as well. That led Starr and Bourne to try the smaller nanomarket micro market concept. 

Benefits of the nanomarket 

"While 365 promotes the nanomarket for up to 125 employees, we’ve used it in small offices of 50 to 75 employees," said Starr. "The results have been mostly good." He does mention product reliability being important. "Corporate employees and managers expect an unflawed, fast purchasing experience. With constantly changing UPC codes for the same products, occasional winter storm power outages in offices disrupting the nanomarket kiosk and lack of understanding by the user, there have been moments of frustration," he said. However, Starr is quick to point out that great customer service from 365 Retail Markets helped him through much of the difficulties. "I think if you polled our customers, 365 would have a winning record for favorability," he said.   

Currently Berkshire Natural has three nanomarkets placed. Each has a glass front cooler and pantry area with packaged snack and food options. The scan and pay functions are handled by the tablet-sized nanomarket kiosk.  

Starr likes the nano's product scanning and payment features but is contemplating the wisdom of not having a locking mechanism for the cooler that ties into the hardware. "Currently we are using the honor system, like most micro markets," said Starr, "and I’d say there’s shrinkage of about 12 percent."  

Finding healthy products 

The company sources many of its items by going to food shows, meeting with food company representatives regularly, constantly sampling new healthy foods and being keen label readers. "We are uniquely positioned to enhance company culture because we have tremendous passion for offering exciting new products on a continual basis and for providing responsive service," said Starr. "Our healthy food is a source of excitement since we are able to change the product mix often. New products come to our warehouse every week." Some of company's current line includes Caesar salad with chicken, chicken tikka masala, pad Thai and Reuben sandwiches. The company adds a bar code onto any products that don't already have one, such as fresh fruit items, to be scanned at the nanomarket kiosk. It also prides itself on supplying items for restrictive diets, such as gluten free, dairy free, nut free, etc., and local options. "While we do offer many products for restricted diets, offering local products is also important from the perspective of local economies and environmental sustainability," said Starr. "In addition, smaller local suppliers are nimble and can put special food promotions together in a few minutes rather than planning months in advance."  

Service and passion  

Today, Berkshire Natural has 10 employees and $1.5M in annual revenues. It services offices, hospitals, public high schools, private schools, colleges, museums and health clubs. In many ways the company benefits because there are not many companies in the healthy food delivery space. Starr explains that the company's main competition is from online retailers that deliver kitchen items. "However, they don't provide the service that we do: putting items away in kitchens, store rooms and even displaying fresh fruit in conference rooms," finished Starr.   

The nanomarket has provided value as a way for Berkshire Natural to expand its service for Boston area offices. It ensures a new level of service and brings healthy food, drinks and meals to employees who would otherwise need to get into a car and drive to find them. That's a win for Starr and Bourne.  


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