MilkRun: Portland Startup That Pays Small Producers to Deliver Their own Goods Locally

Hannah Wallace reported recently at Bloomberg Businessweek Online that, “The case for buying locally produced food is stronger than ever. When the Covid-19 pandemic began to shut down Oregon and the rest of the country in mid-March, it both sped up the trend toward online grocery shopping and highlighted the shortcomings of the industrial food system. In just a few weeks, farmers, unable to sell to restaurants, school districts, and coffee shops, were dumping milk and plowing under onions. Not long after, 20 U.S. meat-processing plants were shuttered because of coronavirus outbreaks, leaving farmers to euthanize tens of thousands of pigs and chickens. By contrast, the small, nonindustrial supply chains of family-run ranches, dairies, mills, and produce farms were able to keep up with increased demand.”

The article noted that, “[Julia Niiro, who founded MilkRun in Portland, Ore., in 2018] credits the milkman—the delivery method that was a hallmark of pre-World War II America—for inspiring her business model. With MilkRun she modernizes the technology, allowing consumers to purchase not only local dairy but also produce, meat, seafood, and locally made products from a sleek website. Then she pays farmers to deliver the orders directly to consumers’ doorsteps.”

Ms. Wallace added that, “One of the first farmers she brought on board was her neighbor Garry Hansen of Garry’s Meadow Fresh, who sells all-Jersey milk, cream, and half-and-half in glass bottles. Eventually she lined MilkRun’s virtual shelves with bratwurst, dried black beans, freshly baked bread, chocolate bars, locally made dog food, and much more. She now offers roughly 500 products. Some are pricey—a 12-ounce bag of Capitola Coffee beans is $15, and a half-gallon of Garry’s organic milk is $7—while other items, such as organic kale for $3 a bunch, are less so, especially because delivery is included. Marketing director Rebecca Alexander says MilkRun can keep prices competitive because it buys directly from growers and producers, and it doesn’t have to pay processors, packagers, or distributors, all of which take a cut in traditional supply chains. Alexander says that between 60¢ and 70¢ of every dollar MilkRun customers spend goes directly to producers.

Since the onset of the coronavirus, MilkRun’s growth has climbed sharply. When I speak to Niiro in early April, she sounds dazed. ‘We did in sales last month what we did in the entire last year of business,’ she says. The company had expanded to eight new ZIP codes (mostly in Portland’s dense western suburbs), moved to a 6,000-square-foot warehouse, and doubled its delivery days, to four. Orders jumped from 100 per day before the pandemic to 700, and May revenue exceeded $600,000, a twelvefold increase over February.”

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