Graze delivers Vermont artisanal and farm-fresh foods to your door. I recently caught up with Christy Colasurdo, co-founder and owner of Graze, to learn more about her growing business.
Q: How did you arrive at the business concept of direct online sales and home delivery of Vermont foods to consumers’ doors?
My business partner, Julianna Doherty Konczal, lives up in Vermont and owns a goat farm. She called me last year during an “Aha! Moment” after meeting a handful of her neighboring farmers. Many of them are award-winning cheese-makers, third-generation dairies and small farmers who were having a hard time getting their delicious products into the hands of the people who really wanted them. She wondered if the folks down in Fairfield County might appreciate really good, farm-fresh, artisanal foods delivered to their door. She started talking with the farmers and I with potential customers in Fairfield County, and the response was overwhelming. We rolled out the concept to about 30 Beta test families in Westport last September. We knew we had a hit on our hands when people started flagging down our Graze van in their neighbors’ driveways.
We opted to go with online sales because we felt that busy people would respond to the convenience factor, both with online ordering and free home delivery. Customers love the idea of ordering from their laptops in their pjs with a cup of coffee and of waking up on a Monday morning to a bin full of fresh eggs, bacon, super-fresh milk and other staples. In many ways, we bring the best of the farmers’ markets right into people’s homes.
Graze essentially offers most of the items you’d find at a local farmers’ market — huge, farm-fresh eggs that make fluffy omelets, bottled-on-the-farm milk, organic yogurts, produce in season, honey, pure Vermont maple syrup, homemade cookies and baked goods, like Graze’s popular mini-muffins, Vermont Cookie Love cookies and Grandma Miller’s homebaked pies, plus we have a range of prepared meals that appeal to families on the go who love the idea of a healthy, home cooked meal but just don’t have the time. We also offer vegetarian and gluten-free choices. All of our foods are made by small producers in Vermont who share our commitment to making foods that we’d want to feed to our families. That means best-quality ingredients made with respect for both the land and for the environment.
Being a Vermont company, one of our specialties is cheese, and we offer cheese of many styles from an array of Vermont’s best artisanal producers. Our goat cheeses from Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery have swept national cheese competitions, as have many of our other goat and cow’s milk selections. Our meats include grass-fed Angus from Barnum Hill Farm. It is finished on all-natural grains, which makes our beef both more flavorful and tender than much of the grass-fed beef that we’ve sampled. Our signature sirloin tips (also grass-fed) are tumbled in either honey BBQ or steakhouse marinade, and customers ask for the steak tips again and again. We also sell flavorful heritage-breed pork and chicken that really “tastes like chicken should” from Misty Knoll Farm, which has a cult following of top Vermont chefs. The through line with all of our meats and cheeses and dairy is that it comes from animals grazed out in the fresh air and sunshine, when the weather allows, and they are raised with dignity and love.
Q: What geographical area do you serve?
We are currently delivering throughout Fairfield County, and we getting a lot of requests to start deliveries to Rye and West Harrison, NY, so that area is up next. We are also serving Weston/Wellesley, MA. This past winter, we did an experiment delivering to a handful of families in Stratton, VT on Friday nights. The news spread pretty quickly up on the mountain about us, so we’ll be back in full force this winter. We are steadily expanding our delivery territory, but as we grow, our goal is to maintain our small-company vibe and high level of personal service. We tell people, “If you aren’t in our current areas, please call or email and let us know that you are interested! We’ll put in a good word with our driver.”
Q: Do you source exclusively from organic and sustainable family farms?
Yes. We try our best to live our values and partner with farmers and producers who share them as well. If one of our farmers is not “Certified Organic,” it is likely because he or she is too small to pay for that certification, but he still farms using organic practices. Fresh. Healthy. Traceable. Sustainable. Small Family Farms. All-Natural. Organic (certified in some cases). Hormone-Free. Cage-Free. Antibiotic-Free. To us these aren’t buzzwords. They’re what we’re all about. Many Graze farm-partners are run by multi-generational families. Monument Farm Dairy is a third-generation family-operated dairy farm. Same with Maple Meadow Farm, where we source our eggs. This means a lot to us.
Q: Vermont enjoys an international reputation as a producer of the highest quality artisan and farmstead foods, making it a preferred brand. Vermont maple syrup is one example. Which other products are real standouts?
Cheese, cheese and more cheese! Cow’s milk cheese. Goat cheese. Hard cheese, soft cheese, stinky bleu cheese. Everyone associates Vermont with pure maple syrup, cheese and dairy (our rich chocolate milk is a runaway best seller). These things, plus our bacon, eggs, meats, cider and all of our staples are really the heart of our business because they promise the best of Vermont — and they live up to their reputation! They are made by hand, in small batches, and many of our artisan cheeses, yogurts and meats taste like their “terroir,” a French word that denotes the special characteristics and flavors of the geography and climate of each particular farm’s environment.
Q: What is the procedure for ordering and how often do you make deliveries? Does someone need to be home to receive the order?
Ordering is easy. Simply visit www.grazedelivered.com and start shopping. Check out our categories: The Bistro is where you’ll find prepared entrees, healthy salads and sides, and even dinners for the kids. The Cheese Cave is where you can browse our changing cheese selection. Our Dairy Barn is where you’ll find fresh yogurt, milk of many kinds, butter, eggs and more. The Bakery contains our fresh baked goods. Browse around; choose what you’d like and click “schedule delivery”. Customers can choose to receive either a convenient standing order every week or they can create new orders each week based on what appeals to them on the menu. We’re flexible. You can turn us off when you’re going out of town and turn us back on so there’s fresh milk and juice in the fridge upon your return. There’s never any obligation or commitment, although most of our customers started out by “giving us a try” and have become weekly devotees and our best promoters.
We deliver down to Fairfield County every Monday morning, so customers can start off their weeks with their staples and a few good home-cooked meals. We deliver to customers’ front doors (or porches, garages, mudrooms, etc.) and customers don’t need to be home for their deliveries. We pack our foods in recyclable bins, which contain Mylar bags with ice packs to keep dairy, meats and perishables fresh and cold for up to four hours. If a customer tells us she isn’t going to be home, we will happily leave her food in coolers, in a garage fridge or in another pre-arranged spot.
Q: What types of customers do you attract and what are some of your top sellers?
Graze customers run the gamut from the busy family to the food-loving working couple looking for a steady diet of farm-fresh foods delivered fresh to their door. Here’s how to tell if you’re a good candidate for Graze: Do you appreciate fresh, wholesome and sustainably produced foods from small-family farms? Do you enjoy the convenience and time-savings of home delivery of the foods you like? Do you find yourself looking for hard-to-find, award-winning, small-batch specialty foods? Do you like the idea of mealtime and snack-time made easier with freshly prepared, healthy ready-to-eat salads, sides, soups and entrees? If so, then you are a Graze customer!
Q: Is Graze part of a larger business? Do you have institutional clients too?
Graze is a privately owned small company, and we don’t have institutional clients at present, but we do foresee a day when we also deliver to preschools, CSAs and yoga studios, thereby offering customers a convenient weekly pickup in one centralized location. Wouldn’t it be great if we could provide healthy meals to schools? We’re working on a line of nutritious kids snacks with cheeses, drinkable yogurts and other nutritious Vermont products, because as busy moms ourselves we know how hard it can be for parents to pull together healthy lunches and snacks for their kids every day.
Q: Connecticut-grown foods have become more widely available to consumers thanks to strong growth in CSAs and farmers’ markets. How does Graze fit into the trend of eating closer to home?
We are so happy that more and more people are taking a greater interest in making a connection to the people who produce their foods. We fully support local CSAs and farmers’ markets, and partner with them whenever we can to support the conservation of rural communities and preservation of farmland in the Northeast. We share their same values, and believe that in addition to producing fresh, nutritious, high-quality foods, small family farms provide a wealth of benefits for local communities throughout New England. With some 26,000 residents in Westport alone, neither the local farmers’ markets, the CSAs nor Graze can reach everyone. There’s plenty of business to go around, and if we can make it a little easier to rebuild the connection between families and the small New England farmer, then we’ve done our part!
Q: Fuel costs certainly consume a larger portion of your operating budget when gas prices rise, as they are doing now. Are you able to pass those costs along to consumers?
Naturally, no one is happy about rising gas prices, but we strive to keep our costs low and our value high. One of the ways we are able to keep our costs in line is by sourcing foods that come direct from the farm, like our milk, which is milked and bottled onsite and not trucked to a bottler and distribution center. By cutting out the middlemen, we keep a lid on travel time and costs. We also deliver to Fairfield County once a week only, so our trips are efficient. Because many of our customers are regulars, we can plan our routes in advance and keep costs down as well. There are a lot of logistical challenges to running a business like this, but it’s worth it to know that we are doing what we set out to do by providing the bridge between small farmers and the people who appreciate their delicious handmade foods.
Please visit Graze online at www.grazedelivered.com.