Eureka Idea Leads Edible to COVID-Era Success
Edible is now delivering orders of whole produce, a new option the brand recently rolled out as it seeks to help franchisees maintain sales.
Entrepreneurial thinking is all about looking for opportunities where others might not. And in the era of COVID-19, the coronavirus that is wreaking havoc on the entire economy, that’s a difficult thing to do as business leaders are thinking about rent, employees, falling sales and myriad other concerns.
Amid all the chaos and fear, Edible Brands President Cheikh Mboup took a hard look at the company and how it could not just survive, but perhaps innovate.
Similar to other franchises, sales and orders, were falling at Edible. Its core business of elegant, edible centerpieces just isn’t resonating with homebound workers or the skeleton crews left at most businesses—and a big honeydew and pineapple display just isn’t the same at a FaceTime birthday party.
Like many companies, the first step for Edible was ending delivery fees, including same-day delivery for any orders placed before 3 p.m. But the innovation came in the form of a CSA-style box of produce. Mboup said it was a logical move given the company’s vast delivery network and supplier relationships, and it could actually benefit the consumers stuck at home.
“There are many people who are not able to go to their local supermarket, may be afraid to go out, or may have a loved one somewhere who is sick or stuck at home. This will help alleviate those issues by allowing people to order fresh fruit and other produce and have it delivered directly to their home,” Mboup said.
He said the pivot required a bigger effort: making sure vendors could do it and the franchisees were willing to execute.
“It was just a question of what else can we do?” said Mboup, who first called the vendors. “And they said, ‘let’s do it.’”
Then came the bigger task, getting buy-in from the hundreds of franchisees that own the 1,100 global locations.
“This was created, executed and thought out in the span of three days. I had to get on the phone with franchise partners all through the weekend. In the franchise industry, you can be the most clever company on earth, but if the franchise community doesn’t welcome your idea, it won’t succeed. I’m fortunate to have franchise partners that said, ‘Hey let’s try it.’”
The program piggy-backs on typical in-store operations. Vendors bring big shipments of fruit, supplemented with more vegetables than normal. Instead of slicing and skewering, franchisees and employees break the shipments down and put an assortment of fruit and vegetables in smaller boxes. The company has a handful of new SKUs: $19.99 boxes of assorted fruit, fruit and veggies or variations of different produce.
And it’s working really well so far.
“All the sudden we’re getting orders, and things are selling,” said Mboup. “What we’re seeing is a lot of purchasers sending boxes out to other people. Someone sent out an order for 40-plus boxes, and we were trying to figure out where they’re all going. I don’t know if it’s people buying them for family members or strangers. It’s really interesting that people are not buying just one box. For us, that was an eye opener.”
A difficult aspect of this new business line, however, has been the recommendation of social distancing. Mboup said it’s a point of pride to walk up to a customer with an arrangement, have them sign and wish them a great day, party or event. Some even like to dole out hugs—the exact opposite of social distancing.
“For our franchisees, that’s a challenge for them. They’re proud to hand it over. I gotta say, ‘No, no, no, you gotta put it on the steps,’” said Mboup. “No hugging, let’s not do that.”
He said if there’s any sliver of advice for the broader industry, it’s just taking a hard look at the business and how to help all the stakeholders, from brand leaders down to the customer. For him, it was leaning on his deep background in the grocery business.
“It was reflecting back to our days in the grocery world that people need and perhaps can’t go buy. Then really looking at our fleet, we have these refrigerated trucks and we can reach 70 percent of the U.S. in an hour. Then it’s what can you do to serve the community and is fair to the franchisees. I personally have the responsibility to make our franchisees as profitable as possible,” said Mboup. And in these difficult times, “how do I make sure that Sally with a store for nine years with five employees, how does Sally keep her doors open and they keep their jobs?”
Above all, he said, this is an exceptionally difficult time and business leaders can choose to shut down or they can lead.
“We can all afford and have the right to panic, but that’s not really going to help us,” said Mboup. “It’s a tough time for everyone. What we’re going to do for ourselves and our family and our business highlights who we really are. Are you going to curl back to the challenges or beat your head with the responsibility to find a resolution?”