In our current innovation issue, we learn why the indie foods online marketplace Mouth.com opened a brick-and-mortar craft spirits store in DUMBO. I recently chatted with the company’s CEO Craig Kanarick on what’s happening at the intersection of small batch and e-commerce.
On how his tech background informed Mouth.com:
I started Razorfish 20 years ago and spent seven years building websites for other companies: Consumer-facing, with a lot of branding, figuring out what people want online. Then I spent many more years as a consultant. A lot of that experience came in useful when starting Mouth — I finally got to be my own client.
The whole premise for starting the company was that there’s all this great stuff out there, but if you don’t live near it, you can’t get it. And we can use technology to provide access to these products.
We started out as NY Mouth, with locavore as very important to what we were doing. We discovered quickly that the locavore aspect is primarily taking hold in produce. Part of the value of putting food in a jar, can or bag, is that they’re made to last longer, to travel long distance. [And these small-batch makers are] using local ingredients where they are. Publications like Edible knew the indie food movement — this new way of people thinking about what they put in their mouths — was happening everywhere. So we set out to uncover the best, wherever it’s made, in every state in the country.
But we don’t think of Mouth as a tech company per se. We have tech teams that help our shopping experience. There are lots of little pieces of tech that we implement for our customers, standard e-commerce pieces allowing people to use their tech to shop on mobile phones, internet-enabled ecommerce.
On what’s driving the shift to buying food online:
Mary Meeker, a former Wall Street analyst, just presented her annual State of the Internet, it’s interesting. The average annual expenditure of US households on food is about fourteen percent. That’s the third highest category after housing and transportation. So it just makes sense that there’s a ton of innovation there, a lot of disruption. People spend at least two hours a week going to grocery store. So now we see Plated, Instacart, Good Eggs, Fresh Direct… there’s a pretty good reason why Amazon and Google want to get in on it.
On how he almost invented the sector 13 years ago:
Actually back in 2002, some friends and I planned out a business that was essentially what Plated and Blue Apron are now. I had just spent nine months cooking at Babbo and I saw the way food is made at restaurants; I realized that there’s so much prep work: chopping, slicing, sauces, etc. That’s how chefs can spend eight to ten minutes on a dish. So we said: We should start a service called Prep. You’d still cook, but you’d have everything delivered, ready for you. But the technology for doing those logistics, it just didn’t exist then. Not to mention there wasn’t an audience that is the size it is now.
On the “Big Food” backlash:
It’s very interesting. There was just a big special report in Fortune about the war on “Big Food.” The reason big food came to prominence is that people felt it was safe. It became the symbol of safety and reliability. Now the pendulum is swinging the other away. There’s something to be said about hacker culture. People who get under the hood, see how things work and build their own stuff. That’s part of what happened: the search for authenticity, a backlash to last 100 years or food or anything else, that built these big brands across the planet.
And there’s confluence in universe — the same thing has spread from food to alcohol. And the same thing that happened with craft beer is happening in craft spirits a couple decades later. When you mix together craft and food and e-commerece, that’s the perfect storm that Mouth grew out of.