Made in New England: Meet Andy Levitt of Plant-Based Meal Kit Company Purple Carrot
Boston based meal-kit company Purple Carrot is on a mission to make it easy and delicious to cook up vegan, plant-based meals in the comfort of your home. We got to chat with Founder and CEO Andy Levitt to learn about recipe development with their in-house chef, their vision to help people eat more plants, and why he launched the brand in 2014—despite everyone thinking it was a crazy idea. It’s the latest in our Made in New England series.
R.K.: What made you start your brand? How did you first get the idea?
A.L.: I’ve had an entrepreneurial side of me ever since I was a kid, so finding new ways to do things and creating something out of nothing is the thing I enjoy most. After having spent about 20 years of my life working in the pharmaceutical sector, I was craving something new.
In January 2014, I watched the documentary Forks Over Knives, gaining an entirely new perspective on the value of plant-based foods with respect to our health. For me, it was this incredible lightning bolt moment where I turned to my wife and said, “That’s what I am going to do!” Back then, there were really only a few big players in the market (Blue Apron, Plated and HelloFresh) and so I believed that there was an entrepreneurial angle to pursue by creating the first 100 percent plant-based meal kit on the market.
Most everyone told me I was crazy—and that was a good sign that I was on to something! So, knowing far too little about the category, and being quite naïve to the complexities of operating a meal kit company, I jumped in and launched Purple Carrot in October 2014.
R.K.: Your meal kits are 100 percent plant-based. How do you source your ingredients and come up with the recipes?
A.L.: Purple Carrot’s sourcing team works closely with distribution partners and produce suppliers to ensure the freshest, highest quality products each week, including sourcing directly from local farmers and keeping the supply chain cold as often as possible. We supply some of our ingredients from third party, local, plant-based companies as a way to support and empower other plant-based establishments.
For example, instead of creating our own plant-based mayonnaise, the team will find a vendor with a similar core mission—like Follow Your Heart® Vegenaise®—to include in the meals. Not only does this ensure quality ingredients, but it also helps expose smaller organizations on a mission to create plant-based resources to Purple Carrot’s larger, national consumer base.
Weekly recipes are created by Purple Carrot’s in-house chef, Andrea Nordby, who credits her inspiration to seasonal vegetables—and makes it her mission to stay on top of what’s trending in the plant-based food world—to create six recipes per week, putting unique spins on classic, traditional dishes and various cuisines around the world.
R.K.: Personal favorite recipe or Purple Carrot fan favorite?
A.L.: Over the past four years, our culinary team here at Purple Carrot has created over 600 unique recipes, so it’s not an easy question to answer! With that said, we do some amazing things with flavors, textures and plant-based protein alternatives—and a few of my favorites include a Jackfruit Torta, Seared “Scallops” with Farro, and an easy go-to of Seared Tofu with Black Rice Noodles.
R.K.: What did you have to learn the hard way? Any particular challenges along the way?
A.L.: Purple Carrot is my second real start-up. In the first, I bootstrapped it almost the entire way. I had two casual conversations with people who both invested some money into that business so I never really had to learn how to fundraise. With Purple Carrot, [I knew meal-kits] can be a capital-intensive business, so I needed to raise money after I had seeded the business with some of my own.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about the process, and by and large, it’s been smooth, positive and not terribly maddening. Of course it’s not easy to hear “no thanks” over and over again, but I have learned that it is all part of the process. And if we had about two weeks to sit together, I could tell you about all of the challenges along the way.
R.K.: Has there been a benefit to starting your business in the New England area that you don’t think you’d get elsewhere?
A.L.: The start-up scene in New York or San Francisco is very strong, yet also very competitive, especially for great talent. With that said, those cities are also very expensive to get started, no matter if you are thinking about office space, salaries, etc.
Boston has been a great place to start my business as there is a strong ecosystem of talented entrepreneurs and those passionate about making an impact, all amidst a slightly less-expensive backdrop to get things going. I also like that it puts Boston as a bit of the underdog in the start-up world, and I take a lot of pride to be the outlier in the meal kit space among the biggest players that are based in the two major markets.
R.K.: What other local food and wellness brands are you a fan of?
A.L.: I like the mission-driven approach that Lighter has taken, helping people gain a deeper appreciation for plant-based foods. FoMu makes some really delicious plant-based, non-dairy ice cream. And the folks at Clover do spectacular things with local ingredients, week in and week out.
R.K.: Who has been the greatest influence or role model in starting your business?
A.L.: Seth Godin is pure genius. Other than my parents and my wife, he is the single most influential person in my life. His books, blogs, speeches and seminars have been incredibly formative for me in shaping the way I think about entrepreneurship and running my business. It’s an honor to call him a friend.
R.K.: What are some of your favorite quotes or business mantras?
A.L.: I’m a huge fan of The Grateful Dead. One lyric that comes to mind is “Holes in what’s left of my reason/holes in the knees of my blues/odds against me been increasin’, but I’ll pull through.” I also love Bruce Springsteen, and often sing this in my head from the song Badlands: “Talk about a dream, try to make it real/You wake up in the night, with a fear so real/You spend your life waiting for a moment that just don’t come/Well don’t waste your time waiting.”
To me, those two song lyrics epitomize the life and challenges of the entrepreneur: The odds are stacked against you, you don’t have enough money, people think you are generally nuts for doing what you are trying to do, and the voices in your head and the real fear that exists can hold you back from taking the leap. But if you want to make a difference, get out there, go do it and don’t look back! One more I really like is: “We didn’t come this far to only come this far.” That one keeps me going too.
R.K.: Where do you hope to see your brand in the next two years?
A.L.: At Purple Carrot, our mission is to help people eat more plants. I’m humbled to observe our accomplishments and progress since I launched the business from my garage in the fall of 2014. We’ve shipped more than six million plant-based meals to date across the country, and expect to ship a whole lot more in 2019 and beyond.
Over the next two years, my hope is that the trends around plant-based eating, especially among omnivores (which is where the market really is, and what describes most of our subscribers) continues to grow, and Purple Carrot is there to provide plant-based meal solutions of all types. We want to be the trusted source for all things plant-based in the years ahead.
R.K.: What advice would you give someone looking to start their own wellness or food business?
A.L.: There is no time like the present, so start! If it were easy, everyone would be doing it, but the journey and adventure is unlike any other. Dive in with everything you’ve got, prepare to make a lot of sacrifices for your passion project and maybe, just maybe, it will catch fire and change the world. And if it doesn’t, you’ll learn so much from it, you will have no regrets. In fact, the only regret you’ll have is why did it take you so long to have the courage to get going!
R.K.: Here at WELL, we like to say “Your vibe attracts your tribe.” How would you describe your vibe?
A.L.: I pride myself on being authentic and transparent in everything that I do. I also perceive myself to be even-keeled, light-hearted and approachable. I think we’ve done a good job at infusing a lot of those values into the Purple Carrot brand, and hopefully our subscribers and fans out there would agree!
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