As cofounder and co-CEO of Thrive Market, an online wholesale-buying club committed to sustainability and social justice, Gunnar Lovelace is no stranger to startups. He focused on technology and entrepreneurship before starting the online grocer — a concept close to his heart.
“Growing up with a single mom, I watched how hard she worked to make healthy choices for our family,” Lovelace says. “I founded Thrive Market to make healthy living easy and affordable for every American family.”
We caught up with Lovelace to learn more about his company’s innovative model and find out what we can expect next as it expands.
Experience Life | Why did you cofound Thrive Market? How do you think your online model stands out from the traditional in-person shopping experience?
Gunnar Lovelace | The idea for Thrive Market was born out of a realization that geography and affordability are the two major barriers in accessing healthy food. I actually grew up on an organic farm in California, where my family ran a food co-op, and was able to see firsthand the power of group buying as a way to both make healthy food affordable and as a means to build community. It always seemed crazy to us that processed foods with lots of chemicals were less expensive than products without any chemicals or processing. The larger issues around conventional agriculture and food insecurity in our country are tied to readily available processed and artificial food at a lower price point — and we want to change all that.
We focus on being a trusted resource for our members through hyper-curation of our catalog. Instead of offering an overwhelming selection of options, our merchandising team expertly selects only the best and most trusted, natural, and healthy products from each category, creating a truly unique and seamless grocery-shopping experience. Every product we offer is a bestseller and is vetted against toxicity databases like Environmental Working Group (EWG). We are now the largest retailer in the country offering only non-GMO food products.
EL | From the packaging on the products you sell at Thrive Market to helping low-income families, social responsibility is embedded in every part of your business model. Why is giving back so important to you?
GL | This is very important to me personally, having grown up very poor with a single mom as a Latino immigrant, and I’ve wanted to do something about limited access to healthy food my whole life. I’ve spent my entire life as both an activist grassroots organizer and serial entrepreneur, searching for an organizing principle that transcends ideology. I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to live an aligned life, as democratizing access to healthy food is both deeply important to me and absolutely key to our success as a business. Everyone wants to live their best life and wants the same for their children, and Thrive Market is helping to make this possible.
For us, our social mission and the success of the business are one in the same. If millions of Americans can access healthy food and products for the same price as conventional equivalents, then we have achieved our mission. The social mission is part of our brand and makes people passionate about what we do. Our goal is to make healthy living accessible to everyone. We see access as a function of price, geography, and education.
Price, in that we offer healthy alternatives at the same price as conventional equivalents and for every paid membership we give one away. Geography, in that we’re available to families everywhere, even if they are in a food desert and don’t have a local health-food store. Education, in that we provide world-class content that informs and inspires.
EL | How many families is Thrive Market able to help each year? How do you see that figure changing as our need for affordable, healthy food continues to increase?
GL | We have donated hundreds of thousands of memberships to our Thrive Gives members (low-income families, military veterans, students, and public-school teachers).
We are continuing to develop educational content to help our community understand how to use our products and the importance of eating a healthy diet.
The Thrive community is also donating a portion of their savings at checkout to provide grocery stipends to our lowest income Thrive Gives families, through an initiative called Spread the Health.
[In late June], we launched a petition asking the USDA to allow food stamps to be used online (find it at thriveaction.org). We believe geographic accessibility, affordability, and education are key to helping people access healthy food, and that nutritious food should be a human right, not a privilege.
Thrive Market is passionately committed to creating a world that is free of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. We believe everyone has a right to know what they are eating and what chemicals are used in the foods they consume every day. That’s why we have carefully screened our products to ensure we do not carry any GMO foods. We also focus on providing USDA Certified Organic options wherever they exist. Genetically modified organisms are prohibited under the USDA Organic guidelines.
We currently offer more than 4,000 of the leading organic, non-GMO brands, such as Annie’s Homegrown, Seventh Generation, Nature’s Path, and many more. And when we can’t find a product that is both affordable and up to our quality standards, we make it ourselves.
EL | You have everything from food to home products and even pet goods. What new categories can we look forward to seeing?
GL | We’re focusing first and foremost on improving our current offerings, but definitely have plans to expand to additional categories in the future.
EL | We noticed your team has written about educational opportunities on your website. Can you share with us future plans to expand educational content and custom merchandising to help members that are new to this lifestyle?
GL | We realized that while a significant group of people have the desire to consume and use natural and organic products, they either don’t have access to these products (they live in a food desert), they can’t afford these types of foods, or they don’t know where to start. By offering natural and organic foods for up to 50 percent off traditional retail prices, selling them through a seamless shopping and delivery experience, and providing education around the importance of healthy eating, we’ve eliminated many of the barriers to living a healthier lifestyle.
We will continue to enhance our current educational content and actively explore new ways to add value to our members.
Keep up with Thrive Market’s and Lovelace’s latest endeavors on Facebook.