As Frictionless as Possible

With a name like FreshDirect, it seems self-explanatory that the company delivers fresh food to customers directly, but Mike Brizel explains how the company is changing the game when it comes to groceries

Mike Brizel had unknowingly prepared himself for his in-house career, particularly in the grocery business. He learned much about delivery systems and supply chain management as senior labor counsel at General Foods, but a few years later, his career took a turn when he joined the Reader’s Digest Association and began to focus on direct marketing. When he changed gears again and moved on to Saks Fifth Avenue, Brizel immersed himself in the retail and e-commerce side of business. Each stop, he says, prepared him for his current position as executive vice president and general counsel at FreshDirect.

FreshDirect has been a pioneer in the online grocery industry since its first home delivery in 2002. As a purveyor of high-quality food products and fresh-made meals, the company bridges some of the best chefs, ranchers, fishermen, bakers, and farmers around the world, as well as their hungry consumers.

“Our mission is to make great food easy to get,” Brizel says. “So we source food from near and far, build direct relationships with growers and producers, and make it all available to order on whatever platform customers prefer.”

From desktop to mobile, website to app, iPhone to Android, FreshDirect customers can shop for groceries anywhere, anytime.

“We’ve heavily invested in understanding what our consumers want,” Brizel says. “We’re committed to making their experience as frictionless as possible.”

With a simple click, customers can order fresh produce, meat that’s been cut to order, or an oven-ready dinner for four, and have it all delivered within twenty-four hours.

As friendly and frictionless as the FreshDirect digital experience is, it is still only a website without the physical faces of the business—but its fleet of delivery drivers and runners take customer service to a whole new level.

“They’re the engaging, dedicated, and passionate faces of FreshDirect,” Brizel says. “I can’t tell you how many heartwarming stories I’ve heard from customers about how our drivers and runners make a big city feel like small town.”

These days, that delivery team is keeping even busier with the launch of FoodKick, FreshDirect’s on-demand, same-day delivery service of curated and distinct food offerings. “If a couple decides at 4:00 p.m. that they want to throw a dinner party at 7:00 p.m., FoodKick will deliver appetizers that are ready to pop in the oven, salad and dressing, vegetables and steaks that are prepped and ready for the grill, dessert from our in-house bakery, and even the perfect wine,” Brizel says. FreshDirect promises that its food products are always delicious and delivered in as little as one hour, a promise that quickly led to a loyal customer base after the program’s launch in January 2016.

Consistently offering new and interesting products has been key to FreshDirect’s success, and the company prides itself on acting as a platform for suppliers to showcase upcoming offerings. Vendors regularly visit FreshDirect headquarters, samples in tow, to demonstrate the latest development in ice cream, beverages, breakfast bars, and any number of other items.

“I love when they visit because our vendors are passionate about what they sell and our customers are passionate about what they buy,” Brizel says. “The samples are just a bonus.”

The bridge that FreshDirect has built between vendors and consumers is a crucial component to the company’s business model. It has prioritized personal relationships with shoppers in order to understand how to structure its inventory, and offers personalized member accounts to provide a seamless shopping experience. Those accounts also track shoppers’ preferences, which allows FreshDirect to send alerts when a customer’s favorite brand goes on sale, or on the rare occasion when an item has been recalled. Customers are provided with information about the sourcing and sustainability of products as well, thus empowering them to make conscientious purchasing decisions. Instead of a flood of generic advertising, FreshDirect customers are given information that is personally relevant.

Technology is ever-changing, as are consumer expectations about food. FreshDirect is constantly working to stay ahead of both, with innovation being the key to constant improvement. When it comes to product-sourcing, for example, FreshDirect has developed a multifaceted strategy that incorporates regional products from local vendors, as well as a wide variety of products from vendors around the world.The FreshDirect supply chain also sets the company apart by utilizing an unmatched refrigerated delivery system and by moving fresh food in and out of its facility in three days or less.

“Instead of food leaving a centralized warehouse, traveling to regional warehouses, and then being delivered to a store to sit on display for a few more days, we work with suppliers to skip all that and get fresh food into homes in half the time,” Brizel explains.

Although a three-day turnaround is certainly impressive and desirable, up until recently, it’s also been a necessity at FreshDirect. The company expanded so much in the past 10 years that it outgrew its original facility in Long Island City. A new, state-of-the-art facility in the South Bronx is slated to open by summer 2017.

“Our hope is the new facility will allow us to double or triple our capacity, as well as expand our geographic reach to Washington, DC, and Boston,” Brizel says. “We are excited to help spur on the local economy and better serve our customers with the highest-quality foods.”

Between drivers, bakers, butchers, IT, legal, human resources, and other corporate teams, FreshDirect employs more than 3,000 individuals. Many of those employees are self-proclaimed foodies, so the new location will have bigger test kitchens for developing meals to share on the FreshDirect website. “Our people are interested in products that are on the cutting edge,” Brizel says.

“It’s part of our DNA to care about what we’re selling.”

With that in mind, the new facility will also feature several places for employees to hear presentations from vendors and sample products. It will be equipped with advanced technology to manage farm-fresh foods, and will provide a larger catering kitchen and bakery to supply fresh desserts, breads, and croissants to customers every day.

Looking ahead, FreshDirect is preparing for the next iteration for the online grocery industry while staying poised for a new wave of growth in the current landscape. This balance is no small feat when e-commerce platforms are constantly reinvented, customer expectations are ever-evolving, and data continues to be a powerful tool requiring careful and rigid attention. Still, Brizel and his team are confident that they’re headed in the right direction. “We’re focused on geographical and product expansion,” he says. “On growing in every way, and maximizing efficiency and customer satisfaction.”    

Fortunately, for a company driven by a commitment to providing the best food and customer service, the road ahead is full of possibilities.