When the 27-year-old told his boss (who was offering him a promotion and a raise), however, his vision was met with confusion and disbelief.
“They still think I’m nuts,” Saunders told Huff Post.
Nonetheless, the health-minded entrepreneur persevered and has met unbelievable success in his venture.
Saunders founded Farmer’s Fridge, which is a healthy vending machine that sells exclusively organic, restaurant-quality salads and snacks. This first of many kiosks was placed in a dreary food court in downtown Chicago last October and was an almost immediate hit.
The rustic-looking yet modern vending machine is made from reclaimed wood and is surrounded by real plants with a carpet of artificial grass. Every morning at 10 a.m., the kiosk is stocked with an array of fresh salads and snacks (mostly organic) prepared shortly before at a nearby kitchen.
Excitingly, whatever is left at the end of the day gets donated to a local food pantry.
Saunders envisioned the idea when he was traveling for his former corporate job and was burdened by not being able to obtain healthy, organic produce from popular fast food chains. He decided he needed to “be the change,” therefore, followed through with the plan to found Farmer’s Fridge.
“My realization was that I could make fresh food and put it in a vending machine without adding any preservatives or other junk and it would taste good. We want everything to be in the running for ‘the best salad I ever had’ or ‘the best blank I ever had.’ If it’s not that good, we’re not going to put it in there.”
Farmer’s Fridge protects the quality and integrity of the food by staying away from items that don’t lend themselves to staying fresh and tasty in a refrigerated vending machine. That means there re no sandwiches, but plenty of salads and sides packed into recyclable plastic jars.
The ingredients in each product are stacked in an order specifically intended to keep the salad fresh: greens on top, cheeses and water-retaining fruits on the bottom, nuts in the middle.
The result is a diverse menu that ranges from “The Cheater,” a modified classic Cobb salad, to “The Junk Food Eraser,” a detox salad stuffed full of kale, quinoa, sprouts, fennel, blueberries and pineapple with a cider vinegar-lemons dressing on the side.
Other items, such as lemon-pepper chicken tuna and tofu are also available.
The prices range, but salads start at $8 (except salmon) and the proteins cost $2 each. Sides cost $4.25.
The entrepreneur’s venture has been so successful, he is having difficulty keeping up with the demand. Reportedly, he has a “very aggressive” launch scheduled for February, with a new kiosk going up “every day” from February 13 onward. At present, all of the company’s locations will be in Chicago.
“We’re still blown away by people’s feedback,” Saunders said. “The biggest fear I had leading up to the day before it opened was, ‘Will anyone buy food from a vending machine like this?’ But it’s working.”
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