BY SHALEEN DESTEFANO
We never thought we’d be so excited about grocery shopping . . . until now. We had the absolute pleasure of sitting with Sarah Young, the Marketing Director for Pinemelon. She was able to give us insight into how Founder and CEO Alexy Lee came up with this brilliant and thoughtful concept.
Pinemelon is an online-only grocer, so we don’t have a brick and mortar location; everything is received, stored, picked, packed, and delivered from our Denver warehouse. It’s a pretty easy process: customers simply create an account, either online or in our app, and start shopping! While we offer a membership, it’s not required to shop with us. Your groceries are delivered within the same day and without additional fees. All orders over $35 are delivered for free! Supporting local producers is also incredibly important to us, so you’ll find tons of local farmers market favorites, along with some mainstream grocery brands and household goods.
We’re different from other online grocery delivery services in that we handle the entire process. Everyone from our pickers and packers, to our delivery drivers and customer service team are all full-time Pinemelon staff. If you’re missing an item, need to add something to your order, or have to change your delivery window, we have an in-house customer experience team who will help you. In a world of impersonal digital services, we’re trying to humanize the e-commerce experience.
We want to make local, better-for-you food more accessible to as many people as we can; making better, healthier food choices for yourself and your family should be easy and affordable.
The biggest draw for us, is that you are huge supporters of local, and this is one of the many things that set you apart. And up until Pinemelon, purchasing locally hasn’t always been convenient. Can you tell us a bit more about this part of your story?
Supporting and buying local, specifically smaller, local producers, has, for the most part, been relegated to weekend farmers markets. And while we absolutely value farmers markets and feel that they’re an essential part of our community, they can sometimes be hard to get to or folks may opt to spend their weekend elsewhere. If this is the only way to buy local, it provides challenges for both farmers and consumers.
We recognize the role that food producers play in the community and the need for not only year-round support of those food suppliers, but also an easier way to bridge the gap between producers and consumers. Small batch food producers are often working in a solo or small team operation, so managing all the moving parts of ordering and delivering logistics is often not feasible. Where Pinemelon is able to facilitate is in logistics; we have the delivery fleet, the technology and the infrastructure to handle getting food from producer to consumer. This allows the farmers, ranchers, and producers to focus on the food, and we’ll focus on getting it to customers.
Pinemelon is actually Alexey’s fourth startup. He started Ticketon.kz and Aviata.kz earlier in his career, two of the top used apps, for online entertainment ticketing and travel respectively, in Central Asia. He started Arbuz.kz, our sister company, in 2018, when online grocery delivery was a completely new concept in Kazakhstan. Alexey and his wife had recently had a child and realized that there wasn’t a service to help new moms with daily tasks, like grocery shopping, so Arbuz was truly created with families in mind. After selling his first two startups, he really wanted to focus on creating something that was meaningful and could leave a positive impact. Bringing good, high-quality food to people, and partnering with the region’s food producers, is a mission he truly believes in.
When deciding when and how to expand the business, Denver was selected for several reasons: overall population growth, growing young families, average per-capita income, lifestyle, and appreciation for supporting local businesses. Colorado, and Denver specifically, supports an incredible number of growing households, families with children, thriving Millennial and Gen-Z generations, and people who love to be outside.
One of our core beliefs is that supporting local is truly the way of the future. Our food industry as a whole, and the global supply chain, is fractured, and we recognize the value and quality of food that doesn’t travel halfway across the world. The food is higher quality for several reasons: produce that comes from within the state is allowed to ripen on the tree or in the ground longer, not in transit. It continues to grow and mature in nature, meaning the end result is a riper, more nutrient-dense fruit or vegetable. For meat producers, it’s often the case that the smaller operations have better, more humane environments for the animals to live. Those holistic practices are also typically associated with better land management and result in a happier soil ecosystem. Many of these producers farm and raise animals organically, even without the label.
In the US, 95% of farms are considered small to mid-sized, and account for 40% of the food production. In Colorado alone, there are over 38,000 farms employing more than 195,000 people. Many of us know some of those farmers by name; we see them weekly at farmers markets and often make special trips to buy their goods. Pinemelon is committed to taking only a very small margin from sales of local goods, often even a 0% margin, in order to pay farmers and producers their full asking cost and passing along that price to the customer.
Many of us became accustomed to ordering groceries online during the pandemic, realizing it made our lives a million times easier. Will our readers be able to find their favorites, or do you only specialize in health food?
We like to think that Pinemelon is the best of both worlds: about 80% of our assortment is natural, organic, and better-for-you products, and 20% is mainstream conventional brands. We realize that while most people want to make better choices about their food, there are always some things that will stay. For example, we know kids can be picky and maybe your child will only eat Goldfish, or you grew up using Tide detergent, or a bowl of Cheerios is the only way to start your day… we hope to strike the perfect balance between better-for-you options and conventional favorites. Our Merchandising team is always open to suggestions, too! One of the best parts of being a small, nimble team means that we can adjust our offerings to reflect what our customers want. If there’s something you want us to carry, we’re all ears. Shoot us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What radius does Pinemelon cover at this point and where do you see them growing?
We currently deliver to a 30-minute radius from our warehouse, located at 58th and I-25. So we roughly deliver North into Brighton, Thornton, Lafayette, and Louisville – almost to Boulder; West to 93, into most of Golden; South to Hampden and I-225; and East to E-470. We have many conversations internally about where to expand next. We know there’s a lot of potential if we were to expand to Boulder, or into Aurora, or to the Southern suburbs of Highlands Ranch or Littleton. We’re currently working to hire appropriately for growing daily orders, which will hopefully allow us to expand in the near future.
Beyond geography, our next venture is to expand Pinemelon’s offerings within the app. We’re starting a Farmers Marketplace, where local farmers, ranchers, and growers can sell their goods year-round through our platform. We take a small markup on these products to account for admin costs, but will not make a profit on the goods. This allows for year-round sales, instead of just during the farmers market season in the summer. Pinemelon will handle all logistics, which farmers often aren’t interested in or don’t have the capacity to handle. It’s a win-win – customers get farmers market goodies all year, and Pinemelon can further help to support our local food providers.
What can we expect from you in the future?
In the short term, we’ll continue to learn, grow, and deliver amazing groceries to the Denver metro area. We will keep adapting, with the help of our customers, by tweaking our assortment, our delivery area, our benefits, and our partners.
Long term, we hope to launch a 2nd and 3rd city in 2023 and then grow to 30+ mid-sized cities by 2030. Alexey and our entire leadership team believe that we have the opportunity to make a difference in mid-sized cities – somewhere between 1 and 4 million people – by supporting the local community of both consumers and farmers, ranchers, and producers.
Ready to start shopping small and supporting local? Visit pinemelon.com to get started.