Online farmers market Good Eggs pulls plug in New Orleans, leaves door open for possible return _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ-- Good Eggs, a San Francisco-based start-up sometimes described as an online farmers market, expanded to New Orleans in 2013. It is closing the local operation and others around the country this week.

A service that offered a tech-savvy approach to getting farm-fresh food as well as a market for a growing number of start-up local food producers in New Orleans is shutting down this week.

Good Eggs, a San Francisco-based company, set up shop in New Orleans in 2013 as part of a national expansion. But on Wednesday, Good Eggs announced it was retracting to its home base, closing all operations outside of San Francisco, including offshoots in Los Angeles, New York City and New Orleans.

Wednesday was the last day the company would accept orders in those cities.

Sometimes described as a virtual farmers market, Good Eggs allowed customers to shop for groceries directly from individual farmers and other food producers on its website. Its staff would aggregate the orders and deliver the goods to customers’ doors.

In an email to local vendors, Good Eggs CEO Rob Spiro said the company underestimated the complexities of expanding at the pace it had set.

“This business of creating a new food distribution system requires a dramatically different approach to supply chains, logistics and commerce — and while we knew it was going to be hard, the complexities of the task at hand surpassed even what we had anticipated,” he wrote. “As a result, expanding into new markets as quickly as we did without perfecting the model first was a mistake — and one for which I take full responsibility.”

In a separate message to customers on the company’s blog, Spiro wrote that “in order to continue innovating in San Francisco, our original market, in order to continue figuring out all the complexity that is required to achieve our mission, we cannot productively maintain operations in other cities.”

The Good Eggs operation in New Orleans had grown from two employees to 30 since it began in 2013; it sold products from 180 vendors. The site offered items including dairy products; produce; meats; seafood; and health and beauty supplies, all sourced or made by small producers from around the New Orleans area.

For many of those producers, the service was a boon for business.

“It helped me access a clientele I never had before and probably wouldn’t have reached as fast as I did,” said Pam Warner, a longtime local farmers market vendor.

Warner’s Folsom-based company, Tessier Gourmet, specializes in take-home meals and tamales; she previously did business under the name Hot Tamale Mama. She was an early adopter of the Good Eggs model locally and said orders from the site grew to make up about a quarter of her business, augmenting sales at farmers markets and at her own store in Folsom.

Similarly, Dan Esses, chef of the Marigny restaurant Three Muses, said Good Eggs helped relaunch his own packaged food business, Esses Foods. He had started his brand of fresh pastas and sauces by selling at farmers markets but had put that venture on hold until Good Eggs came to town.

“It was a way for me to do this that didn’t require me to be at all the farmers markets and make all the deliveries, but still bring in revenue and build the brand,” Esses said.

In a good week, he would field orders from 100 different customers through the site. He still sells his products at the weekly Crescent City Farmers Market and at Whole Foods Market locations, but he said the loss of Goods Eggs is a blow.

“It’s just difficult when you know you have customers looking for your product and relying on you and they can’t get to it,” he said. “It would be great if everyone could make it to a farmers market, but that’s just not a reality.”

In his email to vendors, the Good Eggs CEO made no promises to return to New Orleans but wrote that “we very much hope to come back to your city and have the opportunity to work with you again.”

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.