When a subscription-based grocery delivery company serving metro Detroit abruptly closed last fall, its customers flooded Mike Hughes’s phone lines with requests to fill their orders.
Hughes, who founded Grand Rapids-based Doorganics in 2011 and is its CEO, already was planning to expand into southeast Michigan in 2018.
But the closure of Louisville, Colorado-based Door to Door Organics — including its distribution center in Plymouth, about 30 miles west of Detroit — accelerated Hughes’ plans.
Three weeks later, Doorganics was delivering groceries in 35 southeast Michigan ZIP codes.
After a few more weeks, Hughes saw demand strong enough to warrant building a new distribution center in metro Detroit.
“When (Door to Door Organics) closed, we were overwhelmed by people reaching out to us and asking us to come to the east side of the state,” Hughes said. “We’re optimistic we can fill the gap left by them. They built an admirable business and did a lot for the local food system.”
Hughes said the location and size of the planned facility in southeast Michigan have not yet been determined, but he expects it will be in one of the western suburbs of Detroit.
“We still have to figure out, as far as density of customer base, where the most customers will be,” he said.
Doorganics hopes to open the new facility by early summer, “but that’s not set in stone,” Hughes said. “A lot will be determined over the next few months.”
Grand Rapids still will be the headquarters for Doorganics. Since 2016, the company’s customer service, order fulfillment, packaging and delivery operations have been located in a 4,000-square-foot warehouse at 724 Crofton St. SE.
The company has 11 employees and is in the process of hiring three more: two in the Grand Rapids area and one in southeast Michigan.
When the metro Detroit facility opens, Hughes plans to hire a facility manager and several more employees to sort, package and deliver the food.
The southeast Michigan expansion fits into the company’s overall growth plan.
In 2013, Doorganics signed a partnership with Traverse City-based Cherry Capital Foods to offer local proteins and dry goods to Doorganics’ customers.
Doorganics also sources proteins from Duerksen Turkey Farm, Double LL Farm, Naturally Nutty and Creswick Farms.
“We have connections with farmers who are raising local livestock, so (our offerings of) pastured local proteins have expanded,” Hughes said. “We offer ground beef, chicken, pork, lamb, eggs. We offer more than 60 cuts of local meat now.
“(The protein segment is) even faster growing than produce these days. People want to know, was it raised ethically? Were they raised on pasture? Did they have stress-free lives? Was it not a factory farm? Can they meet the farmer and ask them about the meat?”
According to its website, Doorganics’ other grocery offerings from around 50 Michigan suppliers include coffee, cheese, baked goods and fermented foods.
“Because there are so many small farmers and food makers that rely on our business, it allows me to sleep at night that not only are their investments safe, but our business is safe,” Hughes said. “We’ve had many small farmers grow right alongside us.”
Hughes said Doorganics might eventually source from suppliers on the east side of the state, as well.
Doorganics’ West Michigan coverage may grow a bit more in Muskegon, Cedar Springs and Greenville, but the company is prioritizing its growth in southeast Michigan because serving areas that have more population density helps the company stay profitable and sustainable, Hughes said.
Some of Doorganics’ current challenges include adapting operations and delivery schedules to accommodate growth in east Michigan before the company can build a hub there.
“I’m confident in our team and suppliers, and we’ll get the job done — whatever it takes,” Hughes said.
Hughes said he isn’t too concerned about competition from online grocery-delivery companies such as Shipt and meal-kit services such as Hello Fresh and Blue Apron.
He said Doorganics’ business model fits into the growing trend of “omnichannel shopping.”
“The buzzword right now is omnichannel shoppers, where shoppers are going to many sources for their food,” he said.
Those sources could include visiting a farmers market on Saturdays, stopping at Meijer on Sunday afternoons, popping into D&W twice a week after work, and subscribing to grocery-delivery or meal-kit services.
“I think we supplement meal kits. They’re not a substitute for produce,” Hughes said.
“As it stands today, there are no other organic grocery delivery companies in the state of Michigan. Our niche is local food that can’t be found easily at major supermarkets. I like to call them ‘staples with a story.’ It’s raised, grown and produced by local farmers, and that’s what sets us apart.”