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Food Startup Freshly on Delivering Quality Assurance as a Brand Promise

As the meal kit/meal delivery industry struggles, one startup is redoubling its commitment to CX

Kindra Cooper


Despite proliferating headlines about logistics nightmares, inhospitably cold working conditions in refrigerated fulfillment centers and waning customer interest in the category, the meal kit/meal delivery business is projected to reach $10 billion in 2020, up from $4.65 billion in 2017.

It’s tough for time-pressed urban professionals to ignore the convenient value proposition of pre-portioned ingredients or ready-to-eat meals being shipped to their doors. Companies have responded by reinvigorating their focus on data and putting the customer at the center of everything, from menu design to packaging and ingredient sourcing. 

Founded in 2013, direct-to-consumer meal delivery startup Freshly has raised a total of $107 million in venture capital and is backed by major investors like Nestle. Its three industrial kitchens in Arizona, New Jersey and Maryland produce 600,000 meals per week, up from roughly 200,000 a year ago. 


Meals arrive chilled – not frozen – in an insulated box made from recycled denim, which the company claims is 85 percent biodegradable. Customers choose from over 30 rotating, seasonal dishes like summer chicken with zucchini, and pesto and veggie fusilli, with the option to receive four, nine or 12 meals per week at prices ranging from $9.99-$12.50 each. 

Colin Crowley Freshly“We don’t even necessarily see meal kits as competitors because it’s a very different experience,” Colin Crowley, VP of customer experience, told CCW Digital. 

Crowley admits the meals are “relatively analogous to the specialty entrees and single-serve that you would get at a Whole Foods or other specialty marketplace,” but with a more rigorous focus on all-natural, high-protein and gluten-free ingredients.

Bear in mind that prepared meal services compete with restaurant delivery startups, meal kits, home cooking, restaurant takeout and eating out, so the product’s convenience proposition isn’t sufficient to retain subscribers over the long haul. 

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“We’re a subscription service and we’re meant to fit into people’s lifestyles, so we want to have that long-term relationship,” said Crowley, who is slated to speak at the Chief Experience Officer Exchange in Miami this November. “In order to get that we have to invest in customers upfront, be generous and frame ourselves as a friend of the customer as opposed to being staid or corporate-y.” 

The service tends to be used by new parents who are too time-strapped to cook, college students living in dorms and people ordering on behalf of elderly parents with specific dietary needs. 

When he joined Freshly four years ago, Crowley staffed up the CS team – which, at the time, consisted of one person other than himself – hiring over 70 customer support agents in Arizona and 15 agents based in New York City whose sole responsibility is quality assurance for Freshly’s contact center. 

As companies take advantage of speech analytics software to score calls and rate customer sentiment, Freshly still emphasizes the importance of having humans monitor every customer interaction. The 15-person team based in NYC spends hours every day listening to calls and combing through chats and emails. 

Crowley instituted a strict responsiveness policy, including an email response time of 20 minutes or less, a chat response time of 20 seconds, and average speed to answer of 10 seconds. The company also kept its product offering small to focus on perfecting a select roster of high-quality  meals. 

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“We’ve been a very strategic, practical company where we’ve put a lot more emphasis on our products and services than on our brand to let our product reach a point of excellence. Now we’re adjusting the brand to fit that excellence,” said Crowley.  

In its first three years, the brand focused squarely on optimizing data science, unit costs and supply chains. Now, it’s contracted top branding agency Wolff Olins to “build a truly cultural lifestyle brand that is purpose-driven,” Freshly CMO Mayur Gupta told AdAge in a ‘Marketer’s Brief’ podcast. 

In recent years, meal delivery companies have introduced more flexible, à la carte subscription plans that require less of a commitment, but customer retention is still a major industry pain point, where customers tend to drop their subscription after 6 months. 

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When Freshly first implemented a chatbot, it sent automated messages to customers who cancelled with an incentive to reactivate or the option to start a conversation with a live agent. The prompt to chat generated 130 conversations the company would have otherwise missed out on, and provided insights that led to changes in messaging and investigation into a new service offering.