Most meal kit delivery services have had the same strategy: launch in a major city, raise venture capital and scale nationally. But Narrative Food, a Southern California-based service that predates Blue Apron and the curated subscription box phenomena, has never been conventional.

“When I started this business, there were CSA (community sourced agriculture) boxes but no meal kits, so it was challenging to explain what we do,” founder and CEO Jennifer Piette said in an interview with Karma.

Piette launched Narrative Food 2010 as Out of the Box Collective and became B Corporation certified not long after — yet another early adoption that was not always easy to explain, but became core to the brand’s DNA. Piette was even a founding signatory of WeTheChange, a collective of female B corporation CEOs. 

“From the beginning, I’ve wanted to make decisions without pressure from shareholders that maybe didn’t support our goals of people and planet as well,” Piette said. 

Like other meal kits, Narrative Food boxes include fresh produce and pantry staples like coffee and eggs, but unlike other competitors, all of the items in Narrative Food’s boxes are sourced from local farmers. Customers can elect for either a Provisions Box, which is packed with kitchen staples such as fresh meats, locally made cheeses and specialty fair trade coffee, chocolate or rice, or a Produce Box featuring a variety of locally grown and certified organic fruits and vegetables.

Narrative Food’s boxes include optional recipes that use most or all of the produce included, along with food-related stories from the farmers and growers from which they are sourced. The company also offers nutritional services to deliver optimal foods for its customers’ specific diets.

“From the beginning, I’ve wanted to make decisions without pressure from shareholders that maybe didn’t support our goals of people and planet as well.”

Another differentiator from other meal kits is that Narrative Food does not include exact measurements of ingredients wrapped in plastic — an aspect of the meal kit industry that has long received the side-eye from eco-conscious consumers. It also collects empty delivery boxes, insulated bags and ice packs each week to reuse where possible or to properly recycle once they are no longer usable. By keeping its deliveries to around 1,000 zipcodes in Southern California, Narrative Food is also able to cut back on carbon emissions typical of long distance deliveries.

Cherishing Food’s Story

Narrative Food goes against the grain with its brand as well. The company’s change in name from Out of the Box Collective to Narrative Food was prompted by a growing desire by Piette, a former screenwriter, to focus on the storytelling component of food. 

In 2017, amid public outrage over President Trump’s proposed “Muslim ban,” Narrative Food partnered with award-winning Iraqi-American food blogger Sara Leana Ahmad to curate a box based on her favorite Iraqi recipes. Shortly after, Piette received a letter from one of her customers.

“She was talking about preparing [the recipes in the box] with her small child, and as she’s reading out instructions, her child was finding Iraq on their map,” Piette said. “So right there, her child’s first association with Iraq is with the food and not terrorism or war or immigration problems. It interrupts that dominant narrative and makes a new one.”

As the company looks to deepen its regional distribution and move to a fully zero-waste model, Piette has also taken a community-centered approach to fundraising. After bootstrapping Narrative Food for nearly a decade, she is forgoing the traditional VC pitch model in favor of the crowdfunding investment platform WeFunder, dubbed “the Kickstarter of investing.”

To this point, Narrative Food has relied on word of mouth for its growth. As the company continues to expand — it currently exceeds $3.5 million in total sales — Piette wants to ensure that the only pressure it feels is from its customers and supporters by continuing to focus on community.

“[WeFunder] feels like a good way to appeal to the community we serve, of like-minded individuals who want us to be profitable in a mindful way,” she explained. 

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