Neighborhood Produce Is Crowdfunding a Somerville Grocery Store
UPDATE, August 3: Neighborhood Produce kicks off its pop-up farmers’ market at Winter Hill Brewing Company this weekend. The fledgling company will bring fresh vegetables, fruit, cut flowers, reusable bags, and more to the Somerville brewery parking lot every Saturday and Sunday in August from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
UPDATE, June 21: With a little more than 24 hours left to go in the Kickstarter campaign, Neighborhood Produce met its $20,000 fundraising goal. Matt and Heather Gray are hosting a party tonight to celebrate at Winter Hill Brewing Co.
Matt Gray has been doing his part to improve Bostonians’ access to healthy food for several years, managing donations at the Greater Boston Food Bank and serving on the board of Boston Area Gleaners. But now, a personal project-turned-entrepreneurial endeavor is poised to bring fresh produce to his own community in the most tangible way possible.
Gray, along with his wife, Heather, is behind Neighborhood Produce, a small-footprint grocery store chockfull of fruits, vegetables, and pantry staples in bulk. The crowdfunding campaign he launched last week is already nearly halfway to its $20,000 goal, and Gray is scheduling regular pop-up markets in Winter Hill this summer to introduce the concept to his neighbors while he looks for real estate. He hopes to open the first Neighborhood Produce in Winter Hill late this year, and eventually expand the concept to several other under-served communities.
“There’s a convenience store on every corner, but never a store where you can get fresh produce and your basics,” Gray says.
Market Basket is within a mile from Gray’s Winter Hill home, and Stop & Shop and Star Market aren’t too much farther. But these large-format stores aren’t always the more convenient option, say, when you need a few fresh items to complete that night’s dinner. Gray’s vision for Neighborhood Produce is not necessarily to be the place for the weekly grocery trip. “We’ll have enough variety that you can pop in and it will be there to purchase for a meal,” he says.
Two-thirds of the stock at Neighborhood Produce will be fruits and vegetables, many sourced locally, but also the avocados, bananas, limes, and other conventional food items that comprise a well-stocked kitchen. Gray is developing relationships with sellers at the New England Produce Center in Chelsea, the Pioneer Valley Growers Association, and other local wholesalers to stock his shelves.
“A big part of it is focusing on B-grade, or as I call it, ‘produce as nature intended,'” Gray says. “Perfectly nutritious produce is often overlooked by major retail stores,” he continues, like a scarred apple, a pockmarked pepper, or an oddly oblong carrot.
Gray believes “ugly” fruits and vegetables might even pack more antioxidants and vitamins than their cosmetically ideal counterparts, and he also plans to sell them for less than the average price at a conventional grocery store.
He also plans to keep prices low with pastas, rice, beans, flour, nuts, coffee, spices, and other basics in bulk.
“You’re getting rid of all the marketing and branding costs associated with packaging, and you’re able to take just what you need so you get away from food waste that way,” Gray says. He started his grocery career at the Good Food Store in Missoula, Montana, which boasts one of the largest bulk food departments in the country.
With a masters degree in philosophy, Gray’s plan is driven by ethics. “Everyone should really have basic access to healthy food in their communities. It’s an ethical issue just as much as it’s a logistical issue or a business issue,” he says.
Gray is currently scoping out real estate in Somerville, zeroing in on 500-1,000-square foot spaces, he says. He’s also confirming the details for a regular Neighborhood Produce pop-up in the Winter Hill Brewing Co. parking lot. Beginning mid-July and going through the fall, Gray plans to offer crates of produce several evenings per week. He hopes to have the first Neighborhood Produce store open in Winter Hill by October.
Neighborhood Produce has until June 22 to meet its Kickstarter goal.
Neighborhood Produce, popping up outside Winter Hill Brewing Co. summer 2016, 328 Broadway, Somerville, nbrhoodproduce.com.