After six successful years in Austin, Greenling is expanding to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, choosing Allen, Texas, as the hub of its activities.
Greenling, which home-delivers local food, organic produce and groceries, last year delivered 20,369 local boxes — about 142,583 pounds worth of food — in Central Texas. It also delivered another 20,000 pounds sold individually on the site, says Mason Arnold, founder of Greenling.
“Greenling was founded squarely around sustainability,” says Arnold. “We do local and sustainably produced or certified organic food and home delivery of groceries. Anything we can get local, we do; otherwise, we get it from certified organic farms. From that, we’ve created a new distribution model for local food that gets it from farm to table fresher and faster than anyone else can.”
Smart Business spoke with Arnold about how his business is changing the way people eat and why he chose Allen as a base for his Dallas/Fort Worth operations.
What inspired your business?
I graduated from the University of Texas with a chemical engineering degree and went to work at an environmental consulting firm. I was seeing firsthand what was happening to the environment, and it made me sick. As I learned more, I became more passionate about needing to do something to help the environment. I started an environmentally responsible landscaping business and, as I grew that and learned more about sustainability, I felt I wasn’t really being a change agent.
I felt like the biggest challenges were water, energy and food, and food was at the center of everything; it uses more potable water than all other human consumption combined and more fossil fuel than anything other than our cars. I thought that if we can fix the food system, so many other things will take care of themselves.
So I got together with some college friends and started researching the food system. Once we saw how broken it was, we decided to try to find a better way to get food around and founded Greenling. But there were a lot of expensive lessons early on about how to move food around.
Produce in Texas is somewhat limited, but we have yet to have any problems fulfilling orders. However, we’re working hard to help grow the system and farmers are very much interested and willing to ramp up their production because they know the demand is there and that we’re helping them to bridge that gap.
Why did you choose Allen when you decided to expand to the Dallas/Fort Worth area?
Our model is locally focused, and we can serve up to a 100-mile radius. So when we were looking to expand here, we chose Allen because of what the city of Allen is trying to do as a local food hub and because we can serve the entire Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex from this location.
When we decided coming to Dallas, we started talking with different chambers of commerce in the area. I knew some people who had already been working with the city and who told me how much Allen wanted to do with local food. The city had already bought a plot of land that they’re turning into an educational farm.
I spoke with a city councilman who told me Allen wanted to be the center of local food for the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. We told them that if they wanted to be the center that they really needed a company that does distribution, because a company like Greenling spurs a lot of activity around us. Producers want to locate near us because it makes it easier and more convenient for them to distribute their product.
We also had some conversations with the Allen Economic Development Corporation about what Greenling does to build local food systems, and they got excited and said they really wanted to support us and wanted us to help them develop Allen as a local food hub.
How did the Allen Economic Development Corporation facilitate your expansion to Allen?
They really helped us on several different fronts. They introduced us around and helped us understand the different community sectors in this area. They also provided economic incentives to help us build a local food hub in Allen and create a warehouse where the food will go and where the baskets of produce and food will be assembled.
But we’re also going to create 100 jobs in the next two to four years, with warehouse workers and drivers, and administrative and support staff, so that was exciting for them, as well. We are also investing in almost $1 million of infrastructure in Allen, from which we can serve the entire Dallas/Fort Worth area.
Do you have plans to expand to other areas?
We think this model plays an important role in helping build local food systems and think that, economically, it can thrive in any community with a quarter million people or more. As a result, we fully intend to replicate this model as many times as we can across the U.S.
The other benefit to communities in which we locate is that, as we have grown, we’ve learned that we end up being the No. 1 preferred sales channel from our farmers because we provide consistent demand, we’re not beholden to weather as they are with farmers markets, we place large orders, we are one stop for them, and we are super flexible with receiving, whereas with grocery stores, you have to deliver in a certain window, which is usually the best time for farming.
As a result, we end up getting the highest quality products and the best prices, and we’re still able to give farmers a fair price because we’re working directly with the consumers. Local farmers end up really loving us, and we love that we can help them in that way.
Insights Economic Development is brought to you by the Allen Economic Development Corporation, strategically positioned in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro.