Harvest Express Brings Online Grocery Service to Detroit

11/21/12Follow @XconomyDET

[Corrected 11/26/12, 9:21 a.m. See below.] Jenile Brooks was born in raised in Detroit, and she always knew that one day she’d be back.

Brooks headed East after high school and eventually settled in New York City, where she was working as a film producer. It was in that capacity that she finally returned to the Motor City last year. She was in town working on a documentary about Detroit’s “food desert.” Though Detroit’s lack-of-grocery-stores situation isn’t quite as dire as some national media outlets have claimed, it is true that there are too many neighborhoods where the only groceries within walking distance are found at a liquor store. “While working on the film, I learned there are less than three grocery stores per 10,000 people in Detroit,” Brooks adds.

That got her thinking about the larger question of food access. She was a customer of Fresh Direct, an online grocer that services metro New York City. The Fresh Direct model works, she says, because New York is densely populated with people who have relatively high incomes and no cars. How would that model work, she wondered, in much less dense and less affluent Detroit?

“Fresh Direct wouldn’t consider Detroit because of the perceived buying power of Detroiters and what it would take to maintain a store,” Brooks explains. “By operating online, we can take a minimal capital investment to prove that it works and then expand it throughout the city.”

In January, Brooks plans to launch Harvest Express in five Detroit ZIP codes encompassing the neighborhoods of Midtown, Downtown, Woodbridge, Corktown, and Indian Village. Online groceries are a somewhat risky proposition in a city known for high rates of poverty and relatively low rates of home Internet service, but Brooks already has the support of two partners, one of whom is Jared Saverino, whose family owned Phil’s Market for generations. She’s also lined up some seed money from the Enterprising Health accelerator. [An earlier version of this paragraph mistakenly said Saverino's family owned Holiday Market in Royal Oak. Holiday Market is where Saverino currently works. We regret the error.]

“Getting people to change behaviors is always a tough sell,” Brooks notes. “But our research has shown that a lot of people are interested, and they’re already shopping online.”

Brooks plans to use the same “just-in-time” processing model as Fresh Direct, … Next Page »

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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  • roy connelly

    Wow this is gonna be so cool! This is great for Detroit! Thanks for sharing!

    -YourGrocer.com

  • Cynthia Mcardle

    This is absolutely great for Detroit and Harvest Express as well! Awesome! Thanks for sharing this update!

    -YourGrocer.com