How the Daily Table Food Market is Solving Inner City Hunger & Health

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From serving foodies at Trader Joe's to creating foodies in new communities

photo of Doug Rauch at Daily Table
Doug Rauch had a vision to make healthy food affordable, using foods nearly expired or about to go bad. It's working. Susie Wyshak

"Business can be heroic as it can lift people out of poverty," Doug Rauch said at his Summer 2015 Fancy Food Show keynote presentation. "Conscious business is at the intersection of culture, leadership, purpose and stakeholders."

The former president of Trader Joe's came up with the idea of Daily Table while at a fellowship at Harvard. It all started when a mailer stating that 1 in 6 Americans is hungry caught his attention, as did the fact that Americans pay less of their disposable income for food than anywhere.

More striking data led to Daily Table's mission:

  • In the south >30 percent of people are obese, defined as more than 30 pounds overweight for a 5'4" person.
  • The average family wastes about 125 lbs per year
  • 30-40% of what we grow is wasted in fields or at home, more than what is wasted in food service. 

The big revelation: "Hungry people may be obese. It's not necessarily about lack of calories but lack of nutrients."

The Mission 

"Daily Table is a not-for-profit retail store that offers our community a variety of tasty, convenient and affordable foods that will help you feel and be your best; food that will keep you moving forward, not hold you back." 

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The Daily Table brand reflects its mission

Daily Table hand painted chalk board
The Daily Table experience feels good, just like Trader Joe's. Susie Wyshak

Daily Table is on a mission to provide affordable nutrition to everyone in a community through donated – or deeply discounted – food that fits Daily Table's nutritional focus.

Motivation for an Amazing Customer Experience

Rauch learned that 38 percent of people that could qualify for Feeding America don't use the services because they're embarrassed and don't want handouts.

"If you want to solve a problem, you better fundamentally understand the problem. It doesn't work if you have a beautiful answer to the wrong problem," he says.

Preserving dignity is a key driver behind Daily Table's brand and culture. The same warm, friendly, fun culture you might see in a mom and pop store or in a Trader Joe's comes through at the Daily Table.

Much like at Trader Joe's, at Daily Table, experimenting with new foods is an adventure. 

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Daily Table visibly thanks sponsors and companies donating food

thanking Dailly Table sponsors
Daily Table is all about gratitude. Susie Wyshak

A number of corporations and organizations backed Daily Table's development, including PepsiCo, a founding funder.

Daily Table depends on donations of food that manufacturers cannot sell, either because a packaged food is too close to its "sell by" date or produce just has a few days left. 

NPR reported early on that "Rauch had to fight the critics, who said he was just dumping food rejected by rich people on the poor." To that, Rauch says: "Nobody wants a second helping of 'food waste.'" A month into the business they hadn't had any customer complaints or concerns.

In fact, Whole Foods and many other stores donate expired and aging foods to feed the hungry.

The Time is Ripe For Ugly Produce

Many independent produce markets gather aging produce into bags to sell at a deep discount. In my circles, scoring discounted produce is a badge of honor and chance to get creative in the kitchen. Daily Table has the chance to eliminate any stigma of eating "ugly fruit and vegetables" for everyone.

However Daily Table makes a point of offering produce that is largely as lovely as what you'd find in any supermarket. 

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How you do business is just as important as what you do.

Daily Table welcoem sign
The Daily Table welcomes you with an experience as clean and vibrant as Trader Joe's. Susie Wyshak

How Daily Table does business connects the dots to inspire and engage supporters and the community it serves. Like Trader Joe's, Daily Table offer an upbeat, clean and friendly retail store environment. 

On this hot summer day, the blast of cool air and a welcoming, playful chalkboard sign greeted curious new and repeat shoppers. 

The experience Rauch brings to the table is evident and invaluable. He noted to the Fancy Food Show audience, "At retail you've got to earn their patronage every day. Customers fund you. How you do business is just as important as what you do." 

What a wonderful customer experience for shoppers in an area short on healthy eating options.

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Finally, I can afford to eat the way I should, one diabetic customer said.

Happy shopper at the Daily Table in Boston
Hey, isn't that the same kind of fish so many restaurants are serving?. Susie Wyshak

The concept of discount grocery stores is not new. Grocery Outlet franchise stores dot the West Coast. 99 Cent stores and other dollar-themed stores increasingly stock more produce.  

The day of my visit, customers had access to great fish for the same price as a fast food fish sandwich. Better yet, Daily Table is teaching customers to fish.

The low cost grocery store plans to teach cooking and encourage customers to cook at home and, more importantly, gives them access to food priced low enough to do so. 

The store chooses food that meets guidelines set by nutrition experts, which makes it easy for customers to make healthy food choices.

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Healthy snacks priced lower than junk food?

frequent Daily Table shopper
A loyal Daily Table shopper loads up on apple chips and ready-to-eat or cook meals and ingredients. Susie Wyshak

Better yet, Daily Table does not sell low-nutrition food at all.

When I visited, large tubs of Cedars brand hummus were priced at $2.49, less than half the usual retail price. Rauch explained that Cedars refrigerated foods with fewer than 30 days on the expiration date cannot sell through their usual supermarket channels.

I pointed out a bin of deeply discounted crunchy Buddy Fruit 100% apple snacks to this regular Daily Table customer. It just so happened to be a snack I already had in my backpack for traveling.

Apple chips were new to her, and she got a taste at the customer service counter where staff had set out samples — much as Trader Joe's hooks customers on new foods. 

One taste, and the customer loaded up her cart, jokingly blaming me for her new addiction. "Now instead of eating a cookie as a snack, I reach for something healthy," she told me. 

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The magic of seeing how the meals you eat get made

Kitchen at the Daily Table dgrocery store
Customers can watch Daily Table staff prepare ready-to-eat meals. Susie Wyshak

Rauch says that at 4pm most Americans don't know what they're eating for dinner. 

Solution: Daily Table delivers convenience for customers who are short on time and may be working a couple of jobs. (A desire for quick meals spans pretty much every American demographic!)

Shoppers can peek through the big picture window into the kitchen where employees make these dinners. This kitchen and the employees help shoppings feel connected with their food and empowered to cook. The selection of prepared foods changes based on seasonal produce.  

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Ready-to-eat healtful prepared foods priced like fast food

prepared foods at the Daily Table market
A 24 oz tub of squash tomato soup for $1.29? I'll take it!. Susie Wyshak

Staff prepare ready-to-eat dinners in the on-site kitchen using aging yet perfectly good produce, much as mainstream supermarkets do with their own prepared foods. 

Daily Table reflects a nationwide imperative to stop wasting food and start feeding more people.

On my visit, one refrigerated case featured salads, and one with ready-to-microwave hot foods such as squash soup and beans with brown rice packed in microwave-proof containers — priced at around $.99-1.49. 

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Daily Table employees reflect the community experience

Daily Table employees
Welcoming staff hired from the neighborhood connect with the community. Susie Wyshak

Well before Daily Table opened, the staffing strategy was in place. “It’s really critical the Daily Table is preferential to hiring from the community where it is placed," Rauch told the  Dorchester reporter. Employees would earn $12 to start, and that money would support the community thrive.

Employee empowerment is a key part of Daily Table's culture. "Culture is the secret that makes businesses different...the one thing no one else can replicate," Rauch says. And the secret to delighting customers is to put employees first — which reinforces a great culture. 

His guiding principles center on three key questions:

  • Within a company, how free are employees to make decisions?
  • How free FROM bureaucratic nonsense are they?
  • How free are they TO do the right thing and innovate?

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Picture Daily Table everywhere

Outside at the Daily Table discount non-profit food market in Dorchester
Daily Table is a beautiful answer to the question of how to stop hunger. Susie Wyshak

The residents of Dorchester Mass will remember 2015 as the year in which food waste turned their urban food desert into a neighborhood with access to good, adorable, healthful food.

There's an easy way to know if you're achieving your mission, says Rauch. Simply ask: "Who would miss you if you disappeared from being in business?" 

Looking Forward to Food Delivery Options 

As Daily Table matures, the team will likely set up food delivery options for elderly and homebound locals who need access to good, convenient foods

In fact, the founder of Instacart, a food delivery service contacted Rauch upon hearing about Daily Table to see how they could help bring more people healthy, affordable food.

It's ALL good, and I can't wait for Daily Table to grow much as Trader Joe's has sparked a national adventure in good, convenient eating.

Congratulations to Daily Table for kicking off a new, positive chapter in American history.