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Build an Effective Shipping Business with Eric Stein

Eric Stein, co-founder of Mama Meals, will be joining us on March 19th to discuss all things shipping. Founded in 2020, Mama Meals has become a powerhouse in the postpartum meal space. Eric will share lessons learned and best practices for shipping — topics will range from how to start shipping to scaling to nationwide delivery.

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:08] Will Schreiber: we usually kick these off with what's your normal morning routine, coffee schedule. I'm in New York right now.

Work out of union square. I usually just drink coffee at the coworking space, which is what I've got here. I'm on my like fourth cup today. I'm pretty over caffeinated which is usually good for coffee chats. But what's it, what's your usual routine?

[00:00:31] Eric Stein: Yeah. My routine is I get up about four, four am, and just move my body a little bit, do some breath work reading, read for a little bit.

I'm doing this one right now. The one thing. Oh, what's that about? It's about the tagline is the surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results. And I'm like a couple of chapters in, and it's basically about prioritizing and organizing and staying focused on one thing at a time, as opposed to Ooh, shiny object, something I feel like we all know, but I'm reading this book.

I'm like, dang, he's talking to me right now. So yeah, I do a little breath work and then read and usually have my coffee. I do, I like to do a cold brew with raw milk and maple syrup. That's my jam. I got that going right here. Nice. And and then yeah, maybe do a little work and then my kids get up and I'm on a dad duty until till eight o'clock.

So that's usually my, my mornings. Yeah.

[00:01:24] Will Schreiber: Are you cold brew year round or do you switch?

[00:01:27] Eric Stein: Doing hot and I feel like cold brews just feels like cleaner to me. I don't know. It just feels better. But I don't like the cold aspect of it though in the winter. I'll admit that, I'm struggling with that at the moment.

[00:01:39] Will Schreiber: It's a big, I feel like it's a big cultural divide. Hot coffee, people, cold coffee. I'm hot coffee year round and I'm from Alabama in the summer when I'm visiting my parents, hot coffee. Like it's insane. I know it's insane, but then I know people who are the opposite.

They're drinking cold brew in the snow. I just

don't get it.

[00:01:57] Eric Stein: That's, that was the dead of winter drinking cold brew this year. So yeah, my wife was like doing

[00:02:04] Will Schreiber: that's the perfect time for a steaming mug. All right. Let's get rolling here. This is going to be a really fun talk. We were just chatting right before this on all of the stuff Eric.

Has learned and is willing to share about shipping and building his business. Which is really exciting. So thank you all for joining. Obviously one advantage of joining these live. Is you can ask Q and a, and so just throughout the talk, if anything sparks something, toss a question into the Q and a we will get through whatever questions we can both during and at the end of the talk.

We of course are recording this. We will post it online. We'll send it out. So if you have to drop or just have someone that you think would benefit from listening, like we'll send out the recording and a transcript and you can forward it to them. And in the future, if you have friends who you think.

Would benefit from these please. For them, the the recording or the page to sign up for the next one. We've we've loved hosting these. We'd love to hear from you what kinds of guests you'd love to see. But today we have Eric Stein, one of the founders of Mama Meals, a very very interesting and cool meal delivery service.

Who exclusively ships now and has an interesting model and a lot to share about building that business. So as a starter, Eric would love just a quick background on how you got started with Mama Meals.

[00:03:26] Eric Stein: Sure, yeah. And thanks for having me. I was excited to, to chat with you guys. So we started a little over two years ago now, and, um. it really just came through our experience. So my wife and I, we have two kids and for the first kid, she did all this research and prep for pregnancy and the birth and what do you want to do? And how do you want to do it? And it went really well. And then we had, we did a birth center. It was great with our midwife and we got home.

And then that that time is called postpartum. It's basically like the first. 40 days or so after, after having a baby it was tough. It was really hard. And yeah, I don't know if you have kids, you probably know. And uh, you know, I was, uh, I went back to work pretty quickly and I was cooking a lot.

I was trying to help around the house when I could. And it was just tough. We, we really value organic, clean food. And there was nowhere we could really go out to get it. So it just, it took a lot of time and Holly was like bloated and constipated and just didn't feel good. And it was just like a tough experience.

So before baby number two, she read about Chinese medicine and Weston price and what did our ancestors do in that time? Like after the baby comes and it turns out it was like soup and stew and warm, soft, easy to digest things that are cooked in bone broth. And then we looked back on the first and she was eating like cold salads and.

Smoothies and crunchy dry things. There's a stuff that was like, not conducive for that time. Before baby number two came we prepped 60 meals and just froze them in our standup freezer in the garage. And then once the baby came, we just had a stockpile full of food that was sitting there waiting for us, historically, like your friends and family would always like, come around and do that and it's just I don't know, I feel like that's just disappeared in our culture.

Yeah. Like people will bring food here and there, but it's not like a big thing. So after the baby came, I was just thawing food and heating it up. And it was like so much easier, even with a toddler running around. And my wife felt a thousand times better. She recovered better. No constipation. And life was just like so much easier.

And, uh, and then I, you know, I went back to work and we didn't really think much of it. And and then she did it for a couple of her friends as a gift when they were having their second and third kids. They're like, Hey, you know what? My wife was like, I'm not going to buy you diapers. I'm going to make you some food and I'm a stock your freezer.

And then they were both like, that was the greatest thing anybody's ever done for us. Thank you. And and then we were friends with doulas and midwives, which are our birth workers, they like help the ladies during the birth and everything. And they were like, you guys, this is a business. Like people need this.

And and so she, my wife made a menu and a couple of doulas shared it on her Instagram. And if she put like a Venmo link on there and strangers just started Venmoing us for food. It got a couple of big stock pots and we used our standup freezer in the garage and Mama Meals was born.

It was pretty cool.

[00:06:19] Will Schreiber: Cool. So started in your kitchen, big stockpots. What were some of the initial challenges? So you're starting to take orders from strangers. Really exciting. What came next?

[00:06:29] Eric Stein: Let's see, we already cooked a lot of food at home, right? Cause there's not a lot of food. You can, you can't just go to places and get like all organic food.

So the big challenge was like, all right, we already have a pretty busy kitchen just as our home kitchen and now we're starting to cook all these soups and stews and stuff, which, big old, the pot that we had our first pots, they're so big that the hood of our stove was only like this high above the pots.

So if you can imagine like how we would have 2 pots on this little, kitchen stove and you can barely fit a spoon in there to stir it. So we start cooking and then, we freeze all the meals. We put them in these soup containers. And 1 of the roadblocks that happened pretty quickly was that.

So we cook all this food and now it's in our freezer and we get more orders, but people haven't come to pick up their food yet. So we can't even cook, somebody who just ordered, we can't even cook their food until the other person comes and picks up their food, out of our house. It was pickup.

So that was like a bottleneck that happened, within like probably the first two months. We were like, Oh my gosh, we had to go buy another, a standup freezer from from home Depot and just, put a second one out in the garage. But that was like, it was like living and making like food in your house is was tough, especially the summer when the summer came around.

We were doing lactation cookies. And so those are really popular. People were paying for us to ship those all over the country. Because we were just shipping those and we're putting them in the mail and it was like an extremely hot summer and the oven was running constantly. And those pots were running constantly.

Our house, there's no AC here. We live in Southern California. A lot of people don't have AC and it was just hot. I was sweating in this house,

[00:08:09] Will Schreiber: if you can imagine. I can't. I lived briefly in San Francisco. No AC. And if you cook a lot, it is a problem. Like it, every night we went to bed, it was 85 degrees in the apartment just because of the oven.

So I can't imagine.

[00:08:25] Eric Stein: And so you have, we have these like two, there were like three gallon stock pots. And if you, if anybody's ever cooked a soup or a chili or something like that's a giant heater is what it is a three gallon. And so that'll stay hot for eight hours if you just leave it there.

So we were putting it in the sink. And then I would go buy a bag of ice and pour it around the, pour it around the pot and fill up the sink with water to cool it down before we could get it into the containers, because we were using these like cardboard soup containers. It would, you put it in there hot.

It's just going to destroy the container. So yeah, that was, so then

[00:08:59] Will Schreiber: did, is that when you started you mentioned before, before you started shipping, you started doing some home delivery. You just got Uber drivers or something. So you've got this problem. Your kitchen's full, your freezer's full. Is that when you're like, we got to get this stuff out of here.

We got to deliver.

[00:09:14] Eric Stein: Yeah. So then we started like, all right, I'm going to get in the car and we're delivering. So yeah, we would pack the orders that we're like, we can't wait for these people to pick up their food. And a lot of times they had just had a baby too. So it was like, so I started just driving around Orange County and I'd be gone for a couple hours, just go drop three packages off and then we'd have the freezer space.

And and we did that for a little while. And then somebody was like, Oh, why don't you just put it in an Uber? And I'm like, Oh, okay. So we started ordering an Uber and then the guy would show up or girl, whatever. And and then we would just put a box in their car and be like, Hey, we're not getting in the car.

Just go to the address though and drop the box off. Yeah. But then, what happened is that that was, you can't order another Uber until that one delivers. So then it was like a matter of okay, that one delivered. All right. Call another one. And we were just, we would just have the customer Venmo for the Uber costs, cause we would just pass it on to them.

And so then we had to wait for that, the next Uber to show up, put the box in the car, wait for that one to deliver. All right. Call another one. It was just like nightmare is where it ended up being pretty quick. So then we sniped one of our Uber drivers and just said, Hey, do you want to start doing deliveries for us?

So then he just became our delivery driver and and he would, yeah, he came like once a week or twice a week and then three times a week. And, I just kinda, until we moved to the shipping only model, he was just our guy that was delivering.

[00:10:41] Will Schreiber: So when you started, it was you were not shipping, it was all local orders.

So it was local delivery. And then what made you decide to stop doing that and flip to nationwide shipping, or I don't know if you limited it when you started, but to actually ship orders

[00:10:56] Eric Stein: out. Yeah. I I learned a lot about how shipping is done and, um, we were getting like, you probably know the company butcher box, right?

They ship frozen meat directly to your house. And so we were actually using butcher box at the time. And I was just thinking in my head, I'm like, our stuff is frozen. I order it and it shows up here on my doorstep. Frozen, like why can't we do this? And yeah I talked to some people about it and got some good advice and and that was like the goal from the get go, like after we figured that out, it was like, all right, like we want to ship this.

So before we even started doing shipping only, that was like on our radar. And then when we cut over to delivery only, basically how it works is, you can have if you go to the FedEx website, you could type in your zip code and it'll give you a radius, right? So here's your one day radius.

Here's your two day radius. Here's your three day radius. And so what we did was. Everything is going to be two days only so we could do one day or two day on the ground So that was our first initial like free shipping radius We just built the cost in and we said it's free shipping and we got good rates on that.

And and then anybody outside that two day radius would have to go express, which means, it gets on a plane. And so at that point, what we did is we just created zones. So I had zone one zone one and two were like our, free shipping. And then it was three, four and five, which is like progressively further away from us.

So the cost would be, and I just made I just, I did a couple of like averages and like, all right, so this rate for this, or this zone for this box is going to be this price. And so we would lose money on some and make money on others and it would pretty much just even out. And so at the end of the day, it's only in the mail for two days, regardless.

So I knew that, we, we had to put a certain amount of gel packs in there. If it's one day and then you just have to put more if it's two day. And as you, we were just passing the cost on the consumer for that. And

[00:12:56] Will Schreiber: are you transparent on that? Or that's all built into the item price.

Like you were transparent about, Oh, if it's, if you're in this band, you're going to pay X amount extra.

[00:13:06] Eric Stein: Yeah. Throughout checkout process, it was like. We'll give you free shipping if you're in California, Arizona, Nevada, or Utah, because those are the two day radiuses from FedEx from us.

Gotcha. So then when they go to check out, it was like, here's your shipping price based on your address. And it was just basically what state they were in is how I did it. I just picked states. So if you're in Texas, you're in zone three. And it doesn't matter if you're in like the closest part of Texas or the furthest part of Texas, it's going to be the same price.

That's just to keep it simple, you know? Yeah. Makes sense. I tried to I tried to set it up to where you could, it would give you the exact rate, but shopify wanted like hundreds of more dollars a month just to do the carrier selected rates or whatever. And I just was like, I'm not going to do that.

[00:13:52] Will Schreiber: I'd love, I think we're going to go a lot deeper on shipping for everyone listening a little bit later, but I'd love to talk about even how you got there. Like, how did you guys grow this business? I'm, now you're talking about shipping to Texas. But so before we talk about all of the shipping, like, how did you grow this thing out of your kitchen?

What kind of marketing did you do to build a brand and grow your

[00:14:13] Eric Stein: business? Yeah, good question. This really all spawned from, it was almost like a frustration, we started learning about food and pesticides and GMOs and all these things that I was like, I don't really want to participate in that.

I want just like just food. That's it. And it was like, you go look around and there was nowhere you could just go to get that. Nobody was providing that service. And so in the beginning, the reason we started, our philosophy philosophies around it, we're like, it's only real food in here.

There's no preservatives, there's no pesticides in it. The meat is from well treated animals. It's just as nature intended. And so that was the foundation of our brand. And there's a growing segment of the population. That's like, that's what I want. And you can't go out and get it.

So, we started with an Instagram account and it was just word of mouth. Like we never paid for ads or anything like that. And people would just share with their friends. They would tag us on Instagram. And and that's like literally all the marketing we did was, it was just Instagram, like no ads or anything.

It was just organic. And then another piece of that was Google was very kind to us in a way, because we have this niche of like postpartum meal delivery, right? It's very specific. It's a specific type of food. And we were carving out the niche. So when you type into Google postpartum meal delivery, there's nobody doing it.

So we were just, people were finding our website from all over the country. And because there was also that frustration of I can't just go, I can't go to the, a local restaurant and get this type of food. We were able to charge a premium and people will also pay for shipping, and I mean, candidly, it's not like we, in our costing sheets, like we're not gouging people, we, we make the price appropriate. We choose the best in quality ingredients. And you want to pay if you want it, you got to pay for shipping. But I mean, in terms of how we grew it, Stick to our, stick to our values and people will, people shared it, you know, it's really yeah.

And I think

[00:16:07] Will Schreiber: I, there's so much to discuss here because I think your specific product lends itself to I'm sure how you market it, how you think about pricing on this, the fact that it's. You're selling it really as a one time thing. Granted someone might have multiple kids, but you're, it's you're going to do this postpartum.

So I'm not trying to get you to sign up forever. It's a specific use case. And you also have this big gift component because of that as well. Like your friend, Might have a kid. So how has that played into how you guys market the product and how you think about price point and who the buyer is and how you convince them to use you?

[00:16:48] Eric Stein: Yeah, great question. And the gifting thing is huge, right? Everybody wants to, there's two times in life, right? When you get married and when you have a kid, people just want to get you stuff. And I think that the food thing is becoming a bigger and bigger conversation. You look at our orders, there's.

There's a billing address and a shipping address that are different all the time, different names. It's like super common. So that's been a big deal. And then what we've done recently for like our marketing is we just send we find, like moms on Instagram who are, pregnant or about to have a kid and we'll be like, Hey, let me send you a box.

Try this. If you like it, share it with your people. And they're like, so willing to share it. So willing to share it. Once, once they'd like, see what we're doing and. It's we've been so blessed in that way that like the marketing has that's our marketing cost is I'm just going to ship you a box of food,

[00:17:32] Will Schreiber: so to specifically like followed moms who just had kids. So it's you're targeting the use case.

[00:17:39] Eric Stein: Yeah. That's like the best. If we can get, we just had this recently where my wife follows these like mom influencer type people who are like into, trying to teach people to be healthy and, live a, less toxic life and blah, blah, blah.

Like There's so many different, Niches within that, right? But this woman had a baby and my wife was like, get, let's get her a box. So we, and you should talk to her, sent her a box. And like overnight we had 3000 new followers on Instagram. This woman posted her new baby with a holding one of our meals.

And it was just was like, that's our marketing right there. It's like, how can we just send free food out?

[00:18:14] Will Schreiber: Wow. And is that, and that's remained the case. You discovered this early on and you still, that's a big part of your strategy.

[00:18:21] Eric Stein: Yeah, we've had, we had somebody who was it?

She was the girl from Twilight, those, the movie series, Ashley Green. She posted us and she's got millions of followers and it was like crickets, like nobody cares. Oh, interesting. Yeah, but like this woman who's got she had 200, 000 followers. like gangbusters super relevant people actually care what she has to say right somebody's got like 50, 000 followers or 10, 000 followers like if they're a mom and they're like trying to help other moms we're like yeah here's some free

[00:18:51] Will Schreiber: food yeah i guess intent of audience matters a lot there like why you're following somebody that's really interesting yeah so a part of this as well is And I think this gels well with the gift component of, you're willing to spend a little bit more money, in my opinion, to send someone a gift than to buy for yourself.

It's almost like the psychology of I want it to be nice. I want to treat them. And but you were talking before the call, even of you want to price the product fairly to meet our values and do our part to fix the food system. So I'd love to dig into the pricing and just how you guys justify to the consumer, the price of the meals, because they are expensive, right?

I think on a relative basis. So what's y'all's pricing philosophy and how do you help educate the customer that this is the price, this is fair, this is why it should be, what it is.

[00:19:41] Eric Stein: Yeah, it's something very early on when I, I've never been in the food industry before, like this is, I've always been really into food, since I learned about it 15 years ago or so, like I've been such a foodie and love cooking and it's always been a big thing for me, but as I got into the space and started talking to people, the conversation was always around like cutting costs, like how can I get a cheaper, uh, per unit or whatever.

How can I, where can I buy this product at a cheaper rate so that, the margin can be better. And we never looked at it like that. We never looked at it like that. It's like how, when I go to the grocery store, it's I almost don't look at the price. I look at the ingredients and I, and that's my guiding light.

So approaching this business. We had a business coach early on who, who ran a cookie company, so she was shipping cookies all over the country and she told us, she's aim for 70 percent margin just try to get it there in the beginning here. And so that's was our guiding light.

And then what I would do is I was, I would basically just try to find the most expensive food. And then we put it into the spreadsheets. I'm so grateful for Shahira. Who's our uh, who's our early business coach who gave me like a spreadsheet of how, all right, here's your chili. You gotta put all your ingredients in and we knew down to the gram, the, dollars per gram or whatever for each skew.

I'm just plugging into the spreadsheets and here's the cost. All right? It's gonna be, we're shooting for 70%. All right. That's the price. We were selling a 32 ounce of our chili for I think it was like 32 bucks or 34 bucks, and we were, we used to do à la carte.

And and so I always just stuck to our principles of like clean, no preservatives, highest quality. Like it was almost like, how can I get the most amount of nutrients in this container? And then that's the people who are going to buy it. That's what they want. There are some people who might not see the value in it and that's okay.

But the, the world is changing in a way where people, I think, see that value. And that's been our philosophy. Does that answer your question? Like how we approached it? Yeah,

[00:21:45] Will Schreiber: it does. It spawns more too. I think, um, I'm hearing from you and correct me where this is right or wrong.

You just have to follow your values, which in your case is the highest quality food. This is a very important part of your life. It's either worth it or it's not. And let customers self select into that and don't what I found what you just said to be a transformative thought is stop thinking about cost cutting and more about the product itself.

Like, how can I deliver the best product And let people who want that buy it. Instead of thinking about how to find cheaper chicken. I wonder why 70%, like, why was that the target from the business

[00:22:23] Eric Stein: coach? I have no idea. That was what she said. And we were like, literally never done a food business before.

So we're like, okay we'll do that. But I see now that there's, it's almost like a threshold. I, when I play with the costing, if you're up there at 70 percent at your ingredients, like at the end of the day, after it's all said and done, if you're, if you could be around 70%, like you, you almost have a like a staying power in your margin as you get a little bit lower, it gets eaten up quicker is like my thought on it.

I can't be like I'm just going, making that up right now, but that's what I've noticed. If it's up there and I increased the price a little bit, it stays up there, but if it's 50 percent and I increased the price a little bit, it like drops faster. Yeah. And then you got room to play with it.

Yeah. Yeah, like now we're not, or, our all said and done, we're not at 70 percent now. It's got eaten up by so many different things like boxes and dry ice and labor and blah, blah, blah. But we had it built in from the beginning, like a very high like 70 percent margin, then we have the room to play with it.

[00:23:24] Will Schreiber: And to be clear, that's 70 percent margin on your food costs. So you're not counting kind of labor and production and shipping and that you're looking at how am I making sure I'm pricing this so that 30 percent of the hard costs are at the ingredients, the food.

[00:23:37] Eric Stein: So what I think that we did was we, we took our ingredients.

And then we also took our hourly rate. I think we, in our spreadsheet, we paid us like 20 bucks an hour or something like that. And so that included like the container that it went in and the labor that we were spending in the kitchen, like the hours in the kitchen. And that wasn't everything, but it was pretty close.

You know what I mean? Okay. So it is more than food. Yeah. It was more than just the ingredients. It was like, yeah, our hours going into it at, 20 bucks an hour. And the containers they're, Oh, it's a dollar per container or whatever it was. Yeah. So we just, kept it high and kept the quality like appropriate.

[00:24:17] Will Schreiber: In the end you seem to share this sentiment that at least businesses we see high price point and low customization are correlated with success. Now, there are people that buck that trend, and that's not a hard and fast rule, but for the most part, if you can sell a high price product or a high cart value is what we really think about less so individual price, but how do you push so that every order hits at least a hundred dollars is what we see a real benefit getting to.

And then second low customization, you're setting yourself up for success and on your website and talking to you guys don't have much customization. You have some add ons. Can you talk about learning that and where that came from and has that always been the case?

[00:25:03] Eric Stein: Yeah, early on we just wanted to please people.

And so somebody would be like, Hey, I don't eat pork. Could you do a hearty sausage without pork? And we're like, okay. So we did one of our hearty sausage to without pork. Oh, hey, I'm this, can you remove that? And we were like, okay we'll do that. Cause this is going to be, it's going to be a sale.

And so we did that early on, but, as you increase the batch size, like you can't like. Do that and for example, the pork thing we had multiple people being like, hey, I don't eat pork. I don't. So we switch it to a beef sausage instead of a pork sausage for the hardest.

Like, That was something that we did, but we did it permanently. But, we get a lot of hey, can you do this in a vegetarian option? And we're just like, no, like we, we just can't do that because it just makes us go crazy. Like we want to like actually live a life where we're not going crazy too.

And I think that's something we've tried to focus on too, is like quality of life. And we're so confident in our product and what we do that we, we just own that, yeah. And yeah, we've had to cut stuff. Like my wife, we talk about it. She's like, let's add this.

Let's do that. I'm like, stop it. Like we can't do that right now. I'm already trying to figure out like all the other like dry goods and stuff. And people add that on and how's it going from Shopify to Shipstation and splitting up, cause they're coming from different warehouses now, one comes from our kitchen.

One of them comes from the garage. They have different boxes, different postage. Like all of a sudden, as you start creeping your way up in scale, the complexity just gets insane and you lose track of things. I had some good advice early on. They were like, just cut away anything. That's not like your bulk, your bread and butter, get yourself scaled up and then you can start adding in, you can try to increase the cart value by 10 or 20 bucks by doing add ons and

[00:26:48] Will Schreiber: stuff.

Yeah. Yeah. I think that's a really healthy perspective, definitely a hard discipline to maintain cause you want the sales so bad. But I think Y'all have done a great job doing that. So I think even, and you bring it up, now you've got things coming from different production facilities.

I think it'd be great to dig into some of these logistics of actually shipping. And there's a question here I see in the Q&A about specific sealing machines and testing couriers. We'll get into that here in a second, but I'm curious just off the bat What challenges you have faced at a high level in terms of getting into just the shipping oriented business.

[00:27:26] Eric Stein: Yeah. I had some great advice early on and they were like, it's simple, like just, it's this isn't rocket science. You put the food in the bag, you put the food in a box, temperature controlled box, you put the coolant in there and you tape up the box and you give it to the carrier.

Don't overthink it. And I remember trying to overthink it early on. And one of my mentors was like, stop, just, it doesn't matter if it's in New Mexico or Florida. It's the same, just look at it the same and just treat it the same. Cause it's just one of them. You just have to pay a little bit more. So I was able to clear away all the almost anxiety or doubt that who am I to ship a box to Florida, a box of food to Florida?

Like who, who am I to do that? So it was really helpful for, to hear like, just keep it simple. and, uh, and yeah, and some of the challenges were like I was just saying we were an e commerce store and so we have an order management system of we use Shipstation.

So the orders go from Shopify into Shipstation and that's where we buy all the postage. And, we're the bread and butter of our business is the soup and the stew and congee. And that's what people are ordering. But we also have these like lactation treats and so lactation cookies, lactation, brownies, pancakes.

We have tea, we have Pocos, we have these other things that like, they're really cool. And they're like this premium product. And my wife loves them. And, but as we started to scale up, like all of a sudden we're shipping, we were doing like 30 boxes a week. So to do 30 boxes in a week, and all of a sudden all of our food is at our kitchen, which we use a commercial kitchen, it's all in the freezers, but then there was no space for all the dry goods.

So the dry goods were in the house. So then we had to make all the dry goods and then get them over to the kitchen. And then as we're, we put all the frozen food in there. And then we put dry ice in there. So now all of our dry goods are going to be frozen because dry ice, anything that's in that box is going to be frozen.

And then we were breaking bags like the a package would show up and there's ashwagandha hot cocoa all over the food. And I get a picture and I'm like, Oh, jeez, we had those moments of like, all right, now we had to split. We had to I had to hire this guy, Rob, who's amazing.

He he helped me like set up Shopify so that when the order comes into Shipstation, It will know if it's our frozen food or the dry goods and it would actually split the order.

[00:29:48] Will Schreiber: So now you get two separate shipments, like in Shipstation, you have a dry good shipment and a fresh meal shipment or frozen meal shipment,

[00:29:56] Eric Stein: frozen meal shipment.

So the frozen meal goes out and then the dry goods go in a different box, different postage. So we luckily we had the margin, like we had it built in. So people don't, when they order, they don't know that they're going to get two boxes. But we're actually paying two different shipping charges to get the product.

And that was just something we had to do. We're actually separating all the dry goods right now to a different to a different checkout and a different storefront, it's going to be the pantry section. So yeah, completely separate. So that's going to go away. That'll be like the beginning of next month.

So that was challenges. And then another challenge I'll never forget these is when we first started shipping, we were doing gel packs. And, all of our food's frozen. It's dense, too. It's really thick. It stays frozen pretty well. We pack the boxes, and I would we have to order gel packs.

there's several struggles around that one. One is, sometimes we've run out of gel packs. We're supposed to ship the box out, but we don't have any gel packs. Alright we're not shipping the box out, right? Doesn't happen. And then two was like, I found out that you need to have a gel pack in the freezer, especially these big freezers that we were using at the time.

A week, they should be in there a week to make sure that they're fully frozen. And so there was this time of we only had a certain amount of space in the freezer and then we'd use all these gel packs and we'd have to put more gel packs in, but they wouldn't be frozen in time , to keep the food cold enough.

So that was a struggle. And and then summertime came around cause we were doing this all in the winter is when we started shipping and then summer came around and all of a sudden I'm getting emails of people saying that food was showing up thawed. And I'm like, Oh my gosh. Like I was, it was, there was like a heavy moment of are we might be in trouble right now.

So we'd have to just ship a new box, and cross our fingers. And then usually it would show up. It's just, sometimes it got delayed a day or something like that. Or it was sitting in a hot truck or a hot warehouse and the gel packs were just not enough. So I had to move to dry ice. Which is extraordinarily more expensive than gel pack.

I mean our costs went from 350 bucks for gel packs to 1, 500 a month for dry ice. Just like overnight, but again, margin was there. So those were some struggles to learn early on and yeah. And now we're just dry ice only and everything shows up like a, it shows up like a brick now.

Yeah. When you, yeah. And then one other struggle is okay, we're in a kitchen, a commercial kitchen that we rent. And to do this kind of shipping is you have to have boxes with temperature controlled liners. You've probably seen 'em, right? It's like these. Thick, like paper kind of mushy cardboard liners.

And it takes a huge amount of space. You have to order by the pallet. And all of a sudden I have three pallets of boxes show up that we don't have the space for in our rental kitchen. And I'm trying to figure out okay, like, how are we going to Tetris these liners and boxes into our small little storage space?

And then, we're getting low, I have to order another pallet and then it has to cut. It's just the logistics of it was like, it was tough in the beginning before we'd like really figured some stuff out and got some good help. But yeah, there was a lot to like kind of work through in the, in those early days.

[00:33:01] Will Schreiber: Yeah so interesting. So just some tactical stuff here, like some questions people have asked, what kind of permits did you need to ship food all over the US is it hard to get those or

[00:33:10] Eric Stein: We were not like, Yeah, there was no like specific permitting from what we've seen. We're not we're direct to consumer and talking to the health department and everything that we were doing they never said we needed any sort of specific permits.


[00:33:23] Will Schreiber: And then what sealing machines do you use or have you used to actually seal your meals?

[00:33:29] Eric Stein: We have we use these containers, bamboo containers, and they don't have a a good seal on them. Like it's one of the things we're doing right now is we have bags getting made. So I've got like design work and all that stuff in progress.

And yeah, it hasn't, it's been something that we've been like, thinking of thinking through like long term, but the food, we make the food and it's gone within two weeks right now, it sits in the freezer for two weeks and then it goes to the people's house. And I know it's something longterm where we want to get into something that's got more of a, an airtight seal.

But it hasn't been, I think we've maybe got one or two complaints here and there of Oh, the food's kind of frostbitten. We're like, ah, sorry. Like we'll give you a refund or we'll ship you a new one. But nobody's complained. Yeah.

[00:34:11] Will Schreiber: Where are you getting your boxes and kind of insulation?

What have you settled on? Are you still doing the gel stuff? Where are you getting that from? Sounds like bamboo

[00:34:19] Eric Stein: boxes. We have, so we have containers. They're they're bamboo containers. It's from a company called world centric. They have a lot of different like paper products that work pretty well and they're very reasonably priced and then there's a couple different companies.

Um, Pratt is the place where we'll do the big boxes for shipping or temper pack is another one that does those, the insulated shippers. What else? Green cell foam, I think is another one where they'll, you can order a pallet of boxes and they'll come with all the liners and everything.

Those are like the three that we've used. And now I actually have a company that they warehouse all of our boxes for us and they bring them twice a week, prebuilt. So like they build all, cause you got to build the box, right? You got to tape it up and put the liner in. So they warehouse the box and bring them with the dry ice twice a week.

And I just pay like an extra dollar 25 to have them build the box and bring it. You eat each box uh, each week. So we're able to like move faster.

[00:35:19] Will Schreiber: Yeah. When you were exploring shipping, did you test with any local couriers first, or you just went straight to shipping with, is it FedEx UPS to use a mixture

[00:35:29] Eric Stein: Yeah, we just kept it simple.

That was another advice to me was like, you could, we could get we could do multiple carriers, like for example, FedEx from us, we'll get to San Francisco in two days, but like Washington or Oregon it's express, like it has to get on a plane, but there's another another carrier called GLS, they can hit Washington and Oregon in two days ground.

So I could have, we could have used different carriers. But again, that raises your level of complexity. So we were just like, keep it simple. So we just use one carrier. We use FedEx and for everything. And then once we scale up to the next level, then we'll start to play with multiple carriers, but we, there's a software for that, which is pretty cool.

[00:36:14] Will Schreiber: Is that like a Shipstation add on or something like that, where you can flip orders to different places?

[00:36:20] Eric Stein: It's actually a frozen it's called grip shipping, G R I P. And they they're basically like, okay, so they got frozen warehouses across the country. Okay. So you can send your product to their warehouses and then they integrate with your e commerce store.

So if you get an order, if you have product in, Texas and California in their warehouses, And you get an order in New Mexico will grip is going to say, all right, so here's the, it's shortest from Texas to this. So use, use the Texas facility, use 5 pounds of dry ice, use this carrier because it's the most successful.

That's cool. Or it'll say, Oh, there's a, there's an issue. There's like a weather issue here. Send it from your California, send it from California, use this carrier, use 10 pounds of dry ice. Because the last thing you want to do is lose a box. So it'll analyze shipping rates or shipping carriers.

You gotta have a pretty decent size volume to get in with. Right. I would imagine that's

[00:37:19] Will Schreiber: like, it's like fulfilled by Amazon for frozen. That frozen. That's cool.

[00:37:24] Eric Stein: Wow. Very, yeah, there's a couple of there's grip. Does it? There's a few others that are out there that are just like frozen fulfillment networks.

[00:37:32] Will Schreiber: Yeah, very cool. Do you, I think you mentioned this earlier, but do you have a corporate account with FedEx? Or and I think we answered this question here where you get your liner boxes for shipping,

[00:37:43] Eric Stein: but yeah, the liners are Pratt or temper pack or a green cell phone. Yeah. And then yeah, we have a, we have a really like nice FedEx account that gives us really good rates.

Nice. Yeah. You can, I would recommend if people are looking into it, try to find a company you can piggyback on, cause you got to get the volume up. If you just go in and try to ship a box with FedEx, like you're like, you're just, the rate's going to be so high that to pass that through to the customer is just it's going to be tough.

Like I found a really great strategic partnership that allowed me to get incredible rates. That's smart. Yeah. That's if you're really serious about I want to ship nationwide, then that's the way to go. And there's a couple of other companies out there that'll like, like grip is one of those.

And there's other ones, but there's another one. There's a few others out there. I forget their names, but you're basically like grouping buying power with them. And then you can get discounted rates. Shopify sort of does that. Like you can get discounted rates through Shopify.

[00:38:44] Will Schreiber: Yeah, it does. What's your recommendation for getting the meals reheated or like instruction to the customer?

Do you tell them to thaw them out? Do you just say go straight from frozen?

[00:38:56] Eric Stein: So important. So important because when you're doing frozen, it's like. Like when the meals get to you, they can look a little like lackluster, especially our rice based dishes. And so we're very intentional in our wording and like the emails and there's a whole page on it.

Low and slow, like in a sauce pan, put it in. Thaw it for 24 hours overnight in the fridge and then heat it up low and slow, add a little water as you stir it and bring it back to life. And it comes back to life really well. But if you just nuke it and, blast it with a lot of heat, we don't recommend doing that.

So I think, for reheating, you got to be intentional with it so that people get a good experience. Yeah.

[00:39:35] Will Schreiber: Yeah the low and slow pan I feel like I've seen so many Instagram videos about that recently of reheating anything. Yes. Everyone goes to the microwave, even like pizza stuff. I put it in a pan, reheat it.

Yeah. We are so untrained as consumers to do that.

[00:39:50] Eric Stein: The microwave and we don't, I never use that thing. Like it like vaporizes the water molecules inside the food and it just destroys it. Like it destroys it. I had a guy from the the building biology institute come and do an assessment on our home in terms of the like electromagnetic frequency or electromagnetic stuff coming off.

And he, she, he had a meter in his hand. He's watch this. Go. Go put a cup of water in the microwave, turn it on and then follow me. And I'm like, okay. So glass cup of water in the microwave, turn it on. And we walked 20 something feet away and he held a meter out and he could hear the frequency coming from the um, from the microwave over by like our outside slider door.

He's you can't don't stand near that thing. If you ever use it. And it was like very obvious. I was like I'm not going to use that thing anymore. I wasn't using it anyway, but still yeah,

[00:40:40] Will Schreiber: yeah. Why are there was there a minimum number of orders where you were like, man, we've got to start shipping now versus doing the

[00:40:49] Eric Stein: local, I don't remember if there was a minimum.

I just remember being ready to jump out the window, doing it out of my house. And It was so tough. Like we, we basically, when we finally got ourselves into a commercial kitchen and when we made that jump, We just made the cut to, to shipping same time. It was just like, it was a good time for it to happen.

I don't remember the exact number, but I remember after a year of doing it out of our house, it was like, get me out of here.

[00:41:17] Will Schreiber: Yeah. Yeah, it sounds brutal operationally. Are there label requirements when you ship this stuff? There's one question here. Do you have to put expiration date, nutrition facts to your knowledge?


[00:41:27] Eric Stein: no, no, we put a date on it just because it's I think it's three months out from when it was made. We stamp it. But it's frozen. I just ate one recently. It was like, it's six or eight months old and it was still great. Yeah. It's frozen, it might lose like a little bit of its luster, but Yeah, certainly safe.

[00:41:47] Will Schreiber: On that note of frozen, have you ever shipped non frozen stuff? I know you have the packaged goods, which I think is straightforward, but have you shipped non frozen food? And then as extension of that for your frozen stuff, what's your freezing process like?

Are you now just cooking as you cook and freezing them and storing inventory or are you still doing batches and trying to take orders ahead of time?

[00:42:09] Eric Stein: Yeah, we so we've shipped like the baked goods and that was, we had to cut, we used to let people order like the pre cooked baked goods and do that a la carte, but we had to get rid of it.

There was just too many orders and it was just like, We would, they would show up broken sometimes and we just had to like, they have to be add on. So we ship it frozen. Yeah. If you were going to ship fresh there's a ton of companies that do that, right? You just throw some gel packs in there and, make sure that, that you're, the packaging is good.

It's not going to open up in transit. And then, as long as it shows up cold, right? And then, what was the second question?

[00:42:45] Will Schreiber: Are you, what's your production like now? Are you yeah, are you, what's your freezing process and how are you thinking about the production of the food?

[00:42:53] Eric Stein: Yeah, we cook it, we get a 40 gallon brazier.

We do just, big batches at a time. Get it out of the brazier into chafers to get some of the heat off. Get it into the art containers and then it just goes right in the freezer. And then that's where it stays. And so we put it in boxes. Yeah.

[00:43:09] Will Schreiber: Yeah. So you're more just like making inventory and then pulling from inventory and staying a little bit ahead of the order trends.

[00:43:16] Eric Stein: Yeah, we say we're a little bit ahead but right now it's we used to, we only, we're only in the kitchen once a week right now. We do all of our production on a Sunday. And and we would only do two recipes a week and that was able to keep us up. And now it's been like, oh man, we had to throw in a third recipe.

And then last weekend we had to do four. And so now I've had to like, I'm going to add another day. But I've got three three door freezers, like the walk. So we don't have a walk in anymore because the new kitchen we're at just doesn't have the space. So I had to buy three of those three door freezers and they're full, like they get full and then they get emptied and then we refill them back up and then they get emptied and it's it's a dance right now. Like I'm flirting with fire, to be honest at this point. And, we're doing our best to keep up. And that's why I've started to talk to some companies that have like bigger production, they've got bigger freezers and they can start helping us with this because we're just going to run out of space.

There's only, it's only a matter of time before, Oh, we made 150 creamy chickens this week and we sold 160. Sh*t, what are we going to do? You know what I mean? We're going to get in trouble and we don't have a freezer space to keep adding. It's literally at the kitchen. We're at. We cannot put another freezer there.

Yeah. So we're just people like, Oh, do you want to, why don't you just build a kitchen? I'm like, I don't want to, I don't want to

[00:44:35] Will Schreiber: do that. Yeah. Yeah. That sounds like a nightmare. I've

[00:44:39] Eric Stein: seen what it takes to make a kitchen. I don't, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:44:41] Will Schreiber: How often how many items are on your menu at any given time?

And do you switch them out or are they pretty

[00:44:47] Eric Stein: consistent? We have seven like soups and stews. And that, and they're like, there's no switching. Like we're at a place where we have to just be like, we want to add, we've just got so many good ideas and so many things we want to do, and it's just like to add in anything else into our production to okay, where do I source that, where are we going to keep it?

Like where are the raw material is going to be, it's just, we're out of space. So we can't add anything else. And we've gotten like really good at where, the seven that we're doing now. Yeah. And so once we like get some help with production, then we can talk about like, all right, let's get some more of these other skews that we wanted to, that we wanted to add for a while, but not now.

We're just dangerous. Again, we were talking about that quality of life thing, right? I want to be able to sleep at night. Not, like last weekend, our the processor that does our veggies, that chops them and stuff, they did, they shorted us on potatoes and onions. And I'm like, okay I gotta go to Whole Foods and go buy all of their potatoes right now.

I literally cleaned out all of their potatoes and their onions. They're like, you can do special orders. I'm like, I've, this is not a normal thing. Like I'm not, I

[00:46:02] Will Schreiber: hope to never see it now. And right, exactly. And you don't offer subscriptions, right? This is a, buy once there's a set amount of meals implying like you're going to use this over the one month, two month, three month kind of timeframe.

[00:46:16] Eric Stein: Yeah we have like smaller and bigger packages and we see subscription in the future for just look, the secret of our business is it's postpartum food, but really it's just real food. Like it's soup and still like you ever like to eat chili. You don't have to be postpartum to eat chili.

You know what I mean? Or oatmeal or whatever. It's just, it's super nutrient dense and. So we've been open for two years, a little over two years. We've had people reordering the whole time, we just don't have a subscription model yet. We're going to work on that here as we figure out production a bit more.

And I'm actually working on that now. Just like how can we make that work? How can we like. Make it like do you really want it, but we haven't done it yet, but It's coming for sure, especially because people have keep reordering for like two years, right?

[00:47:00] Will Schreiber: All right, really awesome questions here. I love just some final wrap up. Like what's one thing you wish you had known? Before starting like I love that I've been saying this recently just about running a business. Like we didn't do it because it was easy. We did it because we thought it would be easy.

And so what's been hard, unexpectedly hard.

[00:47:23] Eric Stein: Let's see. Unexpectedly hard. I think I probably would have gotten like a bit more help with the the store, the e commerce store. Like I probably would have learned more about it or like paid somebody more or paid somebody to like, teach me more about it or had somebody on staff that can help us a bit more.

Cause it's like, when I want to do something now, it's slow, and I don't want to break things. And so that's the technology piece. I think we could have had a bit more help on that side. Um, and I think I, we learned our lessons about Keeping it simple and, um, but also I run a business with my wife and if she's like, she's like, wants to do something and I say no, and then we still got to sleep in the same bed tonight, there's a whole, there's a whole thing there.

That's like probably a whole nother podcast, but a whole nother talk. But yeah, I think just, keep it simple and just really stand that ground because it's going to pay off in the long run. Yeah.

[00:48:18] Will Schreiber: I think that's great advice. I think you guys seem outside looking into seem to be doing that, really towing the line of keeping things simple, but pushing the envelope.

And serving great food. We certainly love the business y'all are building. So it's really cool to chat and connect. And you're so kind to share all these learnings with everybody here. I know I speak for everybody. I just say, thank you so much for your time this morning and helping pay it forward for everybody who's thinking about shipping and even just their meal delivery business in general.

[00:48:50] Eric Stein: Thanks for having me.

[00:48:51] Will Schreiber: Yeah, absolutely. My, my final comment to everyone listening in we send out free coffee for being part of the Coffee Club, so expect that at the beginning of April. We've flipped to start sending free coffee at the beginning of every month and we're hoping to host a bunch more talks like this next month, so please email in people you'd love to hear from, learn from because we'd love to, to have people.

It would be helpful for everybody in the meal delivery world. So Eric, thank you so much. This has really been awesome. Have an awesome day. Talk to you later. See you guys. See ya.