The Clean Plates Interview: Gunnar Lovelace
By Beth Lipton
It’s a common lament: Eating healthy is important, but it’s just so expensive. Organic produce and high-quality proteins don’t come cheap—and then there are all those healthy staples. All you have to do is compare your grocery bill at your local supermarket vs. a certain famous national healthy chain that has earned the nickname Whole Paycheck and you can see that stocking your pantry is not for the faint of wallet. (And don’t even get us started on greener cleaning and body-care products.)
Sure, there are ways to game the system. There are some great deals at places like Trader Joe’s, for example. But in terms of convenient one-stop shopping for all of your non-perishable pantry, supplement, cleaning and body-care needs, it’s hard to beat Thrive Market.
Thrive charges an annual $60 fee to join, which seems like a lot when compared with the myriad shopping options that don’t involve an upfront fee. But, along with regular savings of 25 to 50 percent off retail prices on individual products, it offers free shipping for orders over $49, there’s always a good freebie thrown into your delivery (we’ve gotten high-quality supplements, full-size jars of coconut oil and nut butter, and beauty products), and for each paid membership, Thrive gifts a membership to a low-income family, veteran, student or teacher. So it’s a feel-good proposition all over. (By the way, if you don’t manage to save the equivalent of that $60 membership fee in a year, Thrive will credit your account with the missing amount. Boom.)
Clean Plates talked with Thrive co-founder and co-CEO Gunnar Lovelace about how being an immigrant inspired him, the new product line that’s blowing up on the site and his favorite day in the Thrive Market employee cafeteria.
Clean Plates: You’ve said the goal of Thrive Market is to “make the highest-quality organic products accessible to everyone.” What motivated the creation of Thrive? Who are most of your customers?
Gunnar Lovelace: We started Thrive Market to make healthy living accessible and affordable to everyone. The idea for Thrive Market was born out of a realization that geography and affordability are the two major barriers to accessing healthy food. It always seemed crazy to us that processed foods with lots of chemicals were less expensive than products without any chemicals or processing. This is so important to me personally, having grown up poor as a Latino immigrant with a single mom, and seeing how hard she worked to make healthy choices for our family. Each paid membership on the site also sponsors a free membership for a low-income family, veteran, teacher or student.
Our typical customer is a millennial mom and many are from the South or Midwest.
CP: You introduced private-label products not long ago. What was the reason for that? What’s been most successful in that category?
GL: Wherever we felt like we couldn’t offer the savings we needed to for our members, we’ve worked to launch a private label. It’s gone absolutely gangbusters for us, and already represents a meaningful portion of our sales. Our private label line isn’t just a branded version of commodities; we’re working to improve the supply chain and the quality of products our community is getting access to, whether it’s fair-trade organic coconut oil or 25th-generation virgin olive oil from Greek farmers. Just a couple examples of where we’re working to offer the highest quality, ethically sourced products at wholesale prices.
CP: Are you looking to become the Amazon of healthy foods/home goods?
GL: Amazon is the everything store. We offer a highly curated catalog of the best in the category for healthy, non-GMO food and non-toxic cleaning products at 25 to 50 percent off retail price.
CP: You give a membership to a lower-income family for every membership sold. How do you find those families, and what’s been the effect on them?
GL: We distribute through non-profit partners, and anyone who would like a membership can apply on our website. We have thousands of testimonials from families who are grateful for the difference Thrive Market has made in their lives. Here are a few:
“I just wanted to say thank you for your program. Because of Thrive, I was able to purchase these diapers for only a fraction of the cost. You have no idea how much this helps us. We are a family of 6 and with our incomes, we make enough to get by monthly. My heart’s desire is to buy items for my family that are healthy and eco-friendly but the big box stores and local market either are too expensive or don’t carry those products. So I am grateful to Thrive for making these things affordable and convenient. Thank you, this means a lot to us.”
“Despite struggling with disabilities caused by neurological disorders, I strive to continue being as independent as I can. However, I do not drive and live in a remote small town where not much is available for delivery. I struggle every month on paying my bills and for food and the food banks here are not very good. Thrive Gives has become a resource to help improve my financial difficulties. Your program has become my new best friend!”
GL: On September 15, less than 90 days after the launch of our online petition on June 27, the USDA announced a first-of-its-kind pilot program that will allow recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to use their benefits online. While we are applying for the pilot program and would be honored to be included, that was never the primary goal of the campaign. Our goal was to give voice to the 46 million Americans on food stamps and bring SNAP into the 21st century. This campaign again proves how powerful we can be when our voices are synchronized around a common cause, leveraging the relatively new set of media technologies to have a major impact.
CP: And that’s just another reason why we love Thrive.
Good food brings people together. So do good emails.