Doug Rauch picks up a Sicilian eggplant and inspects it. The vegetable’s light purple exterior is punctuated by tiny indentations from a hailstorm that passed through the Boston area the previous week. “They’re cosmetically blemished, but on the inside they taste perfectly good,” says Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s. “At most markets, these sell for a fortune.” At Daily Table, a not-for-profit grocery store that Rauch opened in June, the eggplant is selling for 99 cents per pound—half the price Whole Foods is charging down the road.
The bigger issue is the bruised vegetable would never have made it to the floor of most grocery stores. If produce is misshapen or oddly colored, most shoppers won’t touch it. And that’s part of the reason we waste almost 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. Luckily, Daily Table isn’t like most grocery stores.
The New Face of Hunger
After spending more three decades at Trader Joe’s, the last 14 years as president, Rauch jumped at the opportunity to become a fellow of Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative. The program brings former executives together to use their know-how and professional networks to solve the major social issues of our time. There are lots of things Rauch could have tackled, but he couldn’t get his mind off the statistic that one in six Americans is food insecure. “We’re the richest nation in the world in terms of food production,” he says. “So it just sounded like a logistical problem. If we could get the food where it needs to be, it would all be solved.”
The solution isn’t quite as simple as it seems, but Rauch is making major headway with his newest venture, Daily Table, a retail store filled with delicious, healthy, and affordable food that would otherwise be wasted. He settled on Dorchester, a working-class neighborhood in Boston, for the first location, backed by a number of major funders, including the PepsiCo Foundation, New Balance, Newman’s Own, and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (There are plans to expand to new locations in the Boston area and beyond.)
Many local residents are the new face of hunger in America. Fresh produce or high-quality prepared meals are too costly, so they often turn to fast food or frozen meals. “Obesity is the face of hunger here,” Rauch explains. “It’s not a shortage of calories, it really is a shortage of nutrients. You’re getting all the wrong stuff.”
So Rauch made it a point to only sell food that meets strict nutritional guidelines. You’ll find organic bread and peanut butter but no jelly; apples and oranges but no apple or orange juice. The reason: Jelly and juices have too much sugar and not enough fiber, Rauch explains. Plus, Daily Table has an enormous prepared food section, serving everything from soups to sandwiches to entrées that meet the same guidelines.
From the beginning, the goal has been for a mother on SNAP or a young professional who just moved to the neighborhood to spend $5 and find a filling, nutritious meal for his or her whole family. (While the store hopes to serve low-income people in the neighborhood, it’s open to everyone, and Rauch says there’s plenty of product to go around.)
Groceries, With a Side of Education
The food at Daily Table comes from a few different sources. The store collects surplus from area farms and also works with the Greater Boston Food Bank, which allows non-profits to purchase food from suppliers at steep discounts. Plus, thanks to his years at Trader Joe's, Rauch has connections with a number of food companies, such as Stonyfield Farm and Rudi’s Organic Bakery. When their products get within a few weeks of their sell-by date, most grocery stores will stop buying them, so Rauch’s team is able to purchase the products at a fraction of the usual cost. That's why, at Daily Table, you’ll find 32-ounce containers of yogurt for 50 cents, loaves of organic bread for $1.49, and 30-ounce tubs of hummus for $2.49.
Most Americans have been conditioned to think food goes bad after its sell-by date, but that’s rarely the case, Rauch says. And it’s actually completely legal for stores to sell food past its expiration date, as long as they give shoppers a heads up. It’s worth noting that since opening at the beginning of the summer, Daily Table hasn’t sold any food past its sell-by date, a combination of the fact they’ve been able to sell product quickly and are determined to build goodwill in the community. “If it’s your first time in the store and you see a bunch of out-of-code products, we know you’re probably going to think, ‘What’s going on?’” Rauch says. “So instead we’ve made a big effort to lead with beautiful, fresh food at prices that are phenomenally cheap.”
Rauch’s ultimate goal isn’t just to provide better food options for the community, it’s also to educate people about healthy eating habits. “We’re really a healthcare initiative masquerading as a retail store,” he says. But he also understands most people don’t want to be lectured in the middle of their trip to the grocery store. New initiatives are in the works, including a teaching kitchen with after-school programs for children and evening classes for adults. For now, Rauch is still working on winning hearts and minds. And he knows the fastest route is through our stomachs—and our wallets.