CHICAGO — Farmer’s Fridge, best known for selling jars of fresh salads out of vending machines, is now hawking its healthy fare through an unlikely partner: doughnut titan Dunkin’.
Chicago-based Farmer’s Fridge last week launched a pilot with three local Dunkin’ restaurants, which for the next three months will carry a selection of its salads, grain bowls and desserts on their menus.
The partnership is Farmer’s Fridge’s first with a fast-casual restaurant and furthers its mission to “make fresh, healthy food as accessible as a candy bar,” said founder and CEO Luke Saunders. He hopes for a wider rollout.
“If we can figure out how to put this in every Dunkin’ we would absolutely do that,” Saunders said.
Partnerships with other restaurants are in the works, to be announced within the next 18 months, he said.
Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin’, owned by Inspire Brands, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Dunkin’, which in 2018 it dropped “Donuts” from its branding and focused attention on its coffee, has been expanding its menu and recently introduced healthier options. A breakfast sandwich made with meatless Beyond Sausage rolled out nationwide in late 2019, and this month the chain added a limited-time Southwest Veggie Power Breakfast sandwich with a plant-based patty.
Still, lunch salads are a different ballgame. Alongside frosted vanilla creme donuts and chocolate-dipped french crullers, the pilot adds Farmer’s Fridge’s Greek salad, pesto pasta bowl and pineapple coconut chia pudding, among the seven new items.
Saunders said Dunkin’s interest in the partnership reflects the trend of people wanting healthier options and the logistical challenges of selling fresh food. Farmer’s Fridge, which has been growing fast since it was founded in 2013, now has the distribution system, name recognition and economies of scale to offer a low enough price to make it an appealing supplier, Saunders said.
“It’s not that these chains don’t want to offer them (salads and other fresh meals), it’s that the supply chain has made it hard in the past,” Saunders said. “Seven years in, we are able to provide a solution to solve a problem.”
Farmer’s Fridge made a name for itself with its refrigerated smart vending machines, often located on university campuses, in airports and in office buildings to give people a quick on-the-go lunch option. The company, which in 2019 moved production to a 50,000-square-foot facility near Midway Airport in Chicago, now has nearly 400 vending machines in six states, and has sold 3.7 million meals.
Plans to sell more through retailers were accelerated during the pandemic as offices emptied and regular walk-by traffic at its vending machines was greatly reduced, Saunders said. It also launched a home delivery program that stretches into the suburbs and started selling wholesale to hospitals.
Farmer’s Fridge was connected to Dunkin’ by Cleveland Avenue, the Chicago-based venture capital fund led by former McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson, which is an investor in Farmer’s Fridge as well as Beyond Meat, Saunders said.