Health and fitness start with diets. Anyone who has tried to improve their physical and mental health would begin by assessing activity levels and what they eat.
Yet, for really busy people who’re time- and energy-starved, getting enough exercise is difficult, let alone prepare healthy meals at least three times a day. And as people grow in sophistication and knowledge about human nutrition and meal planning, their demand for better food and physical performance also increases.
San Diego based Active Foods helps busy people eat well and thrive. The food delivery business delivers freshly prepared and hand-crafted meals packed with taste and nutrition.
Surprisingly, this started by chance. “It was accidental. This started four years ago,” says Karen O'Neill who owns and runs Active Foods. What started from her parents’ kitchen is now thriving as one of the top meal delivery options in San Diego.
Getting started with meal delivery
I grew up in San Diego California and at 6 years old I moved to San Francisco and was introduced to gymnastics. I was immersed in the sport until I was 17, and then shortly after began coaching gymnastics while attending the University of San Francisco, where I was an NCAA Division 1 Cheerleader for 4 years. After graduating from university I went back to school for nutrition,” Karen shares.
It was a two-year professional program (nights + weekends) and she also worked on a personal training certificate. Around the same time, a fellow ex-gymnast friend introduced her to CrossFit as something “fun and competitive” to try. By the time Karen started Active Foods, she had become a certified Holistic and Sports nutritionist and also a CrossFit-L2 trainer.
“Then, I started posting my meals on Instagram. Some clients I was coaching for nutrition then started asking me about my meals,” Karen shares.
However, she soon found out that like many busy people, her clients didn’t have the time nor energy to meal prep for health and performance.
So, Karen started a side business cooking meals for them. Then, as her operations grew, she moved to her parents’ house which had a bigger kitchen. Her business was growing so fast that she initially could not keep up with demand. “I needed to start hiring chefs and delivery riders,” says Karen.
She now works with a team of cooks to produce a sustainable supply of healthy and nutrient-dense meals with stringent standards, using local produce whenever possible.
The need for route planning
Now, Active Foods complete hundreds of deliveries for thousands of meals every week, delivering to customers in San Diego and several nearby cities.
“Our food stays fresh for three days,” Karen says. “We make deliveries three times a week and produce for two days. Our cycle’s cook and deliver, cook, and deliver.”
At the start, Karen had to print orders manually to know what to put in everyone’s’ bags and highlight relevant orders in different colors, grouped by neighborhood and zip code. Drivers were assigned different neighborhoods and would pick up bags and deliver them as best as they could. But her drivers, especially if they were new, frequently made mistakes and took inefficient routes that went in circles, leading to long wait times and unhappy customers.
As Active Foods thrived, Karen started looking into improvements for her business. Making her delivery operations smoother was a top priority, and she started looking online for food delivery management software to make her route planning more efficient and organized.
Order and food delivery management
Shopify is the ecommerce platform upon which Active Foods's website is built. The platform helps customers order meals seamlessly, and also allowed Karen to do some coding herself and make customizations.
She also started using RouteBasic to help her drivers plan their food delivery routes, and worked with her head of logistics to send customer delivery data from Shopify directly to RouteBasic.
She explains: “We have orders coming in every week, and they change. Order data needs to be sent to the kitchen so the cooks know what to make. The same data needs to be sent to the route planning software and scheduled. There are lots of things that need to talk to each other seamlessly without us humans typing in stuff!”
Providing great customer support
Another area where technology helps Active Foods is in providing great customer support.
Karen's team receives a lot of questions and fielding them is a challenge, especially when there are so many channels of communication. Customers could make enquires via text, email, Instagram, or Facebook.
“Making sure we are on top of everything and that everyone is happy is a big challenge every day,” Karen says. “We’re in the service business - we serve people.
"RouteBasic saved the day, again." She explained that by using food delivery management software like RouteBasic, she could see exactly when each delivery was scheduled and check if drivers were running late. The app also sends a text notification to customers lettering them know when the driver will arrive.
Routing food during the pandemic
Despite COVID-19, Karen and her team are doing fine.
“We’re an essential business which means we can still cook and deliver,” Karen says.
“We’re thankful to provide good and healthy food that people can order from the safety of their homes. Business is actually better than ever because even though our customers can always cook at home, buying groceries is a challenge due to long lines at many grocery stores due to social distancing guidelines. They still prefer the convenience and nutrition that our meals provide.”
One obstacle is that they couldn’t reuse cooler bags for deliveries due to the virus. To stay cautious yet environmentally conscious, they’ve switched to one-time recyclable paper bags and stuck with compostable packaging.
The company eventually plans to expand to deliver to other areas, but are now focusing on providing the best food they can in areas they service.
The team’s north star? “The goal is to help people around the city and sooner, around the country eat better food, feel good about themselves physically and emotionally and their performance,” Karen says.