I’m really excited to have Gunnar Lovelace on the show. He’s the CEO and co-founder of a new and really exciting company called THRIVE Market that is dedicated to offering these healthy lifestyle products at a really deep discount, often 30% to 50% off of full retail price. Above and beyond that, they have a very strong social mission. It’s a membership-based store. I’ll let Gunnar tell us more about it. But for every paid membership, for every person that signs up and pays for a membership, they donate a membership to a low-income family. That’s really in alignment with my values and with what I think is necessary to make these kinds of foods and lifestyle products available to a bigger section of the population.
In this episode, we cover:
2:50 What Chris ate for breakfast
3:28 Introducing Gunnar Lovelace and THRIVE Market
5:51 Where THRIVE started and where it’s going
11:29 How THRIVE works
Steve Wright: Good morning, afternoon, and evening. You are listening to the Revolution Health Radio show. This show is brought to you by 14Four.me. What’s 14Four.me, you might ask? Well, if you’re listening to the show, obviously you want better health or you’re struggling with your health right now. Chris and I know deeply about how troubling it is to try to integrate diet, lifestyle, sleep, stress—there are just so many components that go into creating a healthy lifestyle. So what Chris went ahead and did is he created a 14-day healthy lifestyle reset program. Basically, what 14Four does is walks you through step by step, day-by-day, through integrating diet, lifestyle—and by lifestyle, I mean movement—stress, and sleep patterns that we all know are very hard to start altogether. If you really concentrate it down into a step-by-step format and get led by somebody like Chris, it can make it really easy to sort of reboot at any point during the year. 14Four.me already has a couple thousand sign ups and things are going really well. If this is something you’re struggling with, I encourage you to check it out. For today’s show, I’m your host, Steve Wright from SCDlifestyle.com. With me is integrative medical practitioner, healthy skeptic, and New York Times bestselling author, Chris Kresser. Chris, how’s your morning going?
Chris Kresser: It’s great. I’m enjoying the rainy fall day here in Northern California.
Steve Wright: Wow. I don’t usually beat you in the weather, but we got sun here in Boulder.
Chris Kresser: Well, I think Boulder does beat Northern California in terms of number of days of sunshine a year, doesn’t it? Something like 300 days of sun out there?
Steve Wright: Yeah, it’s above 300. It’s pretty amazing.
Chris Kresser: That’s more like where I grew up, in Southern California. But here in Berkeley, we definitely get some rain. We don’t get the snow you guys get, but at this time of year, it’s not unusual to have a rainy, kind of cloudy, dark day.
Steve Wright: Gotcha.
Chris Kresser: It’s nice. We’ve had a lot of sun, and it’s feeling good to just—you know, these rainy days kind of makes it easy to focus and not be distracted by thoughts of going surfing or being outside in the sun. So I welcome it.
Steve Wright: Awesome. Yeah, you can’t fight the changing seasons.
Chris Kresser: No.
Steve Wright: Before we get into this very special episode today, everybody is going to want to know, what did you eat to get ready for this episode?
What Chris Ate for Breakfast
Chris Kresser: Well, it’s another disappointingly common breakfast for me. It was plantains, eggs, and sauerkraut, and some coffee with cream. So it was the standard, Steve.
Steve Wright: Man! It’s still pretty delicious-sounding for a standard.
Chris Kresser: It’s delicious.
Steve Wright: We’ll take it, we’ll take it.
Chris Kresser: I went through a period of time where I was getting really creative with my breakfast, but lately, it’s been all—I’m hunkering down, working on a number of projects, so just fuel to get me through the day.
Steve Wright: I get it.
Introducing Gunnar Lovelace and THRIVE Market
Chris Kresser: Well, I’m excited about the show today. Clearly, one of the biggest obstacles to adopting a healthy lifestyle is cost for a lot of people. It’s not really inaccurate to say that so far, the health and wellness movement has been largely limited to middle class and even upper-middle class people, because the cost of the food and even other kinds of healthy lifestyle products, like cosmetics or home cleaning products or things that, has been prohibitive for a fairly large section of the population. This is a problem we’ve been aware of for some time. But until now, there hasn’t really been a company that’s made a strong effort to address that. We have stores like Whole Foods, which is great and full of wonderful products, but I’m sure everybody has heard the phrase “Whole Paycheck”. It’s an expensive place to shop, and it’s out of reach for a lot of people. So I’m really excited to have Gunnar Lovelace on the show. He’s the CEO and co-founder of a new and really exciting company called THRIVE Market that is dedicated to offering these healthy lifestyle products at a really deep discount, often 30% to 50% off of full retail price. Above and beyond that, they have a very strong social mission. It’s a membership-based store. I’ll let Gunnar tell us more about it. But for every paid membership, for every person that signs up and pays for a membership, they donate a membership to a low-income family. That’s really in alignment with my values and with what I think is necessary to make these kinds of foods and lifestyle products available to a bigger section of the population. I want to welcome Gunnar Lovelace to the show.
Gunnar Lovelace: Thank you, guys. It’s an honor to be on the show. I really, really appreciate that introduction, and excited to collaborate with you both.
Chris Kresser: Gunnar, tell us a little bit about how you developed the idea for THRIVE, and what you saw in the marketplace that led you down this path.
Where THRIVE Started and Where It’s Going
Gunnar Lovelace: It’s interesting because, for the first 10 years of my childhood, I grew up with a single mom who has always tried every different type of health modality. And seeing her as a single mom and seeing how hard she worked to make healthy choices in spite of very constrained financial resources, it left a very, very strong impression on me growing up. Then when she remarried, she married a great man in Ojai, California who was running a food co-op out of an organic farm. It exposed me to the idea that when we collaborate together and buy together in a group buying setting, we can access these products at dramatically lower prices. That food co-op is still run informally today. As I later progressed in my professional career as a technology entrepreneur interested in social enterprise and vehicles of social change—I’d been studying the natural products industry for a number of years and been trying to figure out when the right timing would be to really propose a model that would allow us to access these products at wholesale prices.
Chris Kresser: Let’s talk a little bit about timing and just what’s happening right now.
Gunnar Lovelace: I think to your point earlier in the lead-in, there’s been an incredible explosion of health and wellness information and access and products. They really resulted largely from the hippie movement, and that’s kind of gone increasingly mainstream. Whole Foods has really contributed to the development of the market with standards, and has really helped a lot of early natural products companies grow quickly. But to your point, in the lead-in, that it really also has been a limiting factor, in that they’re interested in preserving their margins and their business model, which, unfortunately, only serve upper-middle class and upper class consumers. So it’s really only been recently—in the last three years, with Costco coming on so strong in the natural products industry—that a narrative has emerged for brands where they can sell their products in a membership community, and at a different pricing channel that’s acceptable to their existing retail channel. It’s really the convergence of those two things that’s created an opportunity for us to finally offer these products at wholesale prices.
Chris Kresser: In terms of timing, it really couldn’t be better, as far as the crisis that we’re experiencing. You know, 23.5 million people live in what the USDA calls “food deserts” in this country. I know some numbers that I’ve seen from our discussions, where it’s estimated that the cost of 2,000 calories of health food can be up to $14, and 2,000 calories of junk food can be as low as $3.50.
Gunnar Lovelace: That’s right.
Chris Kresser: These are disparities that we desperately need to address. Because we can talk until we’re blue in the face about healthy living and the importance of these kinds of choices, but if people aren’t able to make those choices because of financial constraints, then it’s just always going to be a hugely limiting factor.
Gunnar Lovelace: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I think one of the most profound questions that I constantly ask myself and I ask everybody that we work with is: Why does a conventional product with lots of processing, lots of chemicals, and lower nutritional density, why does that product cost less than one with less processing, higher nutritional profile, and no chemicals? The answers to that are complex and there’s a multitude of them. But the primary issue is that there are economies of scale achieved in conventional food supply, which means that those products are sold everywhere, and that has been largely subsidized by various types of corporate welfare over the last 50 years. Our goal with the business through THRIVE Market, by offering these top 3,000 products at wholesale prices, is to really be part of a larger virtuous cycle, whereby lowering the price dramatically increases demand, which then further lowers the price in subsequent rounds.
Chris Kresser: Exactly. Of course, that’s happened in other industries and we need that kind of positive feedback mechanism for this to really gain traction and foothold, which is one reason I’m so excited about this. Let’s back up. Tell us just a little bit of the basics about THRIVE. What is it? We’ve been kind of dancing around that so far. But what is it? How do people get involved? What are your plans for the future? Maybe give us a kind of one-year plan and a three- to five-year plan, and paint a picture for us of where you see THRIVE going.
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How THRIVE Works
Gunnar Lovelace: Thank you. We launched two weeks ago with 3,000 of the bestselling products from 500 of the most well-known brands that you would find at Whole Foods and other retail channels. We’re focusing on non-perishables to start. So if you imagine a health foods store, generally the outer perimeter is your perishable categories like dairy and vegetables, and everything in-between is non-perishable. So we’re covering all of those categories, whether it’s food, supplements, natural beauty or nontoxic baby care. All of those categories are covered in THRIVE. We offer those top 3,000 products, and we ship them nationally for free on orders over $50. Our focus, instead of making money on the products themselves, we break even on the products in the beginning and we charge a membership fee like Costco. So for $60 a year, like a Costco membership, you get access to the club. Everybody gets a trial period upfront. They can try it out and opt out if they don’t want it at any time. We’re very customer service-friendly. At the end of that trial period, we bill $60 for the annual membership. For every paid membership, we’re giving a membership away to a low-income family through a network of non-profit partners that we’re working with.
Chris Kresser: That part of it, as I said in the intro, really excites me because a lot of companies pay lip service to the idea of a social mission. Certainly, offering products at a discount is an important part of that mission, but in some ways, it could be said that you’re kind of preaching to the choir. But when you’re actually offering a membership to families that would otherwise not be able to afford it and are not even that familiar with this way of eating and living, that’s where real change is possible. Tell us a little bit about what kind of resources you might offer to a family like that.
Gunnar Lovelace: Well, I think it’s an interesting issue, in that we see the primary issue as one of access, and we see access as an issue of education and affordability. So working with thought leaders like you that really have authentic content and a really authentic connection with a large segment of dedicated people that are interested, that’s a way that we can really develop educational content.
In conjunction with that, we’re rolling out a content platform at end of December. It’s just going to really focus on—you know, it could be an article on the truth about saturated fats and the benefits of coconut oil. Then right from that article, you can access coconut oil at 40% off. So really kind of creating a value add, simple, educational, authentic experience that helps people. And really, hopefully, over time, we earn the trust of our members to be recognized as a curated source of these products. So I think education.
Then affordability obviously is the other key barrier. If one can know about it but can’t afford it, then it doesn’t really matter. Our goal right now with the non-profit partners that we’re working with—and it’s Boys & Girls Club, LA Fund, and a couple others that we’re in deep conversations with—is really to find demographic groups that are exposed and interested in these areas of health and wellness, and have them help us distribute the memberships. So we’re setting up in-kind grants. Over the years, we expect to be able to give away millions of these memberships, which would be hundreds of millions of dollars of in-kind grant donations to our partner organizations. There’s an interesting challenge with all that though, which is that in the short term, there’s going to be a slow cycle of adoption because a lot of this is new and there’s a lot of misinformation about health. In more mainstream understanding of health, as you talk about often, low calorie and low fat is kind of understood as being healthy. And everything points to the counter of that. But there’s a lot of money that’s spent on misinformation. So there’s definitely going to be some challenges that we’re going to have to deal with and how we actually really make it available to people. I think on a real practical level, we’re merchandising our catalogue so that we can really provide what we call “staples,” which are more essential products that a lower-income family would use. You know, when I was growing up with my mother, she wasn’t going to buy exotic, dehydrated kale chips. It was like, “How do I feed my boy in a way that’s not toxic?”
Chris Kresser: Right, right. I mean, some people are probably thinking, “Oh man, another membership. I’m already a Costco member. I’m already an Amazon Prime member. Do I really want another membership?” That, of course, crossed my mind when I heard about this. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I just did some back-of-the-envelope calculation. I figured if I’m saving, at the minimum, 30%—if I place a $50 order, I save $15 essentially there that I would have spent somewhere else. Then if I do that only four times a year, once a quarter, I’ve already paid for my membership.
Gunnar Lovelace: That’s right. I think what we’ve seen in the two intense weeks that we’ve been open is that our average order values are about $70, so they would have been spending $100 instead. Our average discount is about 34% across the board. So you figure, with two purchases, you’ve paid back your membership. And you’ve got to figure that if you’re buying these products from us and replacing a lot of the staples that you’re using in your normal life—thousands and thousands of dollars a year is spent on these products, so the savings is incredible. Our discount relative to Amazon or Vitacost, you know, we’re double the discount. So some people think, “Oh, I can just go get that on Amazon.” Yeah, that’s true. A lot of times, there are some discounts on Amazon. Obviously, Amazon Prime is great. But the fact is that when you look at it purely from an economical perspective, it still makes total financial sense, because our discounts are greater and we provide a different level of highly-curated product selection that is focused on a truly healthy lifestyle.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, that makes a big difference. With Amazon, there’s no real interface necessarily to make it easy to find what you’re looking for. You have to kind of type it in. One of the things I like about your site is you have it broken down into categories like Paleo, Moms or Gluten Free, and you can shop based on those categories.
Steve Wright: Desserts and chocolate, which I’m shopping right now. It turns out, if you sign up for THRIVE right now while you’re listening to this podcast, you can start buying your favorite chocolate bars at what would be, according to Boulder prices, sale prices all the time.
Chris Kresser: Yeah. So Steve’s already in there buying chocolate.
Steve Wright: I figured most of the listeners would be thinking about that by now. So let’s just talk about what we really are thinking about.
Chris Kresser: And it’s not just food. I mean, Gunnar, you mentioned this, but you’ve got all the bath and body products like Dr. Bronner’s stuff and Alba Botanica’s shampoo, conditioner, facial cream, facial toner. One thing we haven’t mentioned is supplements and natural remedies. That’s another huge expenditure for a lot of people. Of course, baby and kids products. We’ve already placed our first order. It’s actually closer to $100 for us, because there’s a lot—it’s interesting, because I was like, “Oh, I wonder how much we’ll use that.” Because we eat mostly just fresh food that comes from the outer aisles, farmer’s market and things like that. But then I realized, of course, there’s ghee, there’s coconut oil, there’s almond butter. There’s all these sort of staples that are non-perishable products. Then not even to mention soaps and home cleaning products. So it was very easy for us to start adding those things to our cart and add value. I admit that I’m a person that can’t stand spending time on shopping and that sort of thing. The idea of just having the stuff show up on my doorstep and placing a regular order is extremely appealing.
Steve Wright: You can even get your potato starch. Your resistant starch is in there.
Chris Kresser: And I’ve seen some price comparisons here. I just want to go through a couple of it that are kind of interesting to me, just to give you an idea of the magnitude of discount involved. For organic coconut butter from Artisana, a popular brand, it’s $11.85 at Whole Foods. At Amazon, you get it closer to $10. Vitacost, $10.79. At THRIVE, it’s $7.90. For something like Lydia’s Organics green crackers, those raw crackers that everyone loves, they’re $9 at Whole Foods versus $5.18 at THRIVE. So we’re talking about really significant discounts here. I imagine, Gunnar, that what you’re starting with, all these products, is just the beginning. I know that Amazon started with books and expanded to a whole range of products. I’m imagining that eventually, we could see a whole lot of other healthy living products here that you’re not starting with.
Gunnar Lovelace: That’s right. I think it’s an interesting balancing act, because we, on one hand, don’t want to pollute the ecosystem with too many options. I think we really want to develop being known as a curated, trusted source for the best of class in each category. At the same time, obviously, we’re constantly studying—you know, we have a weekly merchandising meeting. For example, the week before was all focused on adding in a bunch of Paleo products that we felt we were still short on, in terms of gelatin and other categories like that. Then this last week, it was really focused on more young mother products and eco lunch kits. So we’re definitely expanding very quickly. To your point, it’s not just food. Just on the healthy cleaning, for example. As many people know, the cleaning supplies that we are told to use and are sold in conventional food supplies and grocery markets, they’re highly toxic. We absorb them through the largest organ on our body, which is our skin. And our children interact with them, and they cause all sorts of unintended consequences later on in life. So we’re working very closely with EWG, which has the largest database of toxic ingredients in food and cleaning supplies.
Chris Kresser: That’s Environmental Working Group, for those folks who aren’t familiar with EWG.
Gunnar Lovelace: Yeah. They have an amazing database. We’re working closely with the founder, Ken Cook, and their team. I think it’s a really exciting time, because there’s a tremendous amount of interest from consumers now to make healthy choices, which is causing the ecosystem of companies willing to serve that to shift and to grow very, very quickly. You know, I think something like THRIVE Market and what we’re doing, we’re going to be able to reach millions of families, and really actually provide a new channel for these natural product companies that don’t have the DNA to market online in their organizational understanding, and really create a model that goes direct to consumer and cuts out all the middlemen—the distributors, the brokers, the slotting fees, the pay-to-play games that are done in the standard food supply—and instead pass all of those savings along to the consumer.
Chris Kresser: One of the other things I’m excited about is the—you know, with Whole Foods and these other national chains, it can be really hard for a new manufacturer/producer of a good product to get their products in those stores. If they can’t get them in the store, then their distribution is always going to be limited. But from what I understand, you’re going to be able to carry a much broader selection of products, including just products that are really maybe oriented towards a more niche audience, and for that reason, wouldn’t be carried in a national chain like Whole Foods. Of course, I’m thinking of Paleo type of products that are really low in sugar and are really great for us Paleo folks, but might not do well in Costco or something.
Gunnar Lovelace: Right.
Chris Kresser: I love the idea that those sorts of products are going to be available at a discount.
Gunnar Lovelace: Yeah, that’s definitely our focus. We are going to be merchandising with increasing depth towards some really important niches like Paleo, and really making sure that—you know, one of the things that I think has probably gotten in the way of Whole Foods is that their whole decision-making supply chain is very decentralized. That makes it very, very hard for them to support smaller brands in the powerful way that we can. On the flipside, a small brand is not going to be able to survive in the Costco ecosystem, both because it costs too much money to play in the game and two, to your point that a niche product that’s focusing on the Paleo community won’t achieve economies of scale that Costco needs to put into their supply chain. So we kind of fit right in-between those two. We have a really nimble central planning process that allows us to identify those brands that fill in key categories and satisfy key interest groups and needs, while really supporting the brand through the process.
Chris Kresser: Well, I think what you’re doing is fantastic. Full disclosure here: I’m not a current investor in THRIVE, but I’m definitely considering it. It’s pretty rare that an opportunity comes along like this that is in total alignment with my values, my social mission, and the kind of work that I’m doing in the world. I want to do everything I can to support THRIVE, whether that’s actually investing in the company or just helping to get the word out and sharing it with you all, my listeners and readers. To that end, we’re doing a contest. This podcast I think will come out on a Wednesday. The contest started the previous Monday. We’re giving away I think 20 free one-year memberships. Is that right, Gunnar?
Gunnar Lovelace: That’s right.
Chris Kresser: Because like I said, I really want to get the word out about this. For me, when I signed up for my membership, just knowing that in that process, another membership was being created for a low-income family, that was enough for me to get me to sign up. I believe in that kind of change. I want to contribute to that kind of change in the world. It’s a great bonus that I get these products at 30% to 50% off. But for me, that alone would have been enough to do it, because I think we need more of that in the world.
So if you want to participate in this, you want to check out THRIVE, which I highly recommend, and see what kind of savings you can get on these types of products, and you want to enter the contest to see if you can win a one-year membership for free, head to ChrisKresser.com/thrive. You’ve still got a couple of days. I think the contest ends on Friday at midnight. If you’re listening to this, you’ve still got a couple of days to enter; plenty of time. Then if you want, you can go ahead and sign up for a trial. As Gunnar said, there’s no obligation. You get a free 30 days to check everything out, to see if it’s going to work for you. If it doesn’t, of course, you can just cancel. Again, Gunnar, thanks for coming on. Really, really excited about what you’re doing. Stay in touch and let us know how we can support you.
Gunnar Lovelace: Thank you both so much. This really, exactly what we’re doing here now, is the macro of what we need to really get the word out. And at an individual level, if you’re excited about this social mission and you’re listening to this podcast, please tell your friends about it. Give us a chance to earn your trust. We really appreciate everybody’s help. This is a really, really exciting opportunity.
Chris Kresser: All right, Steve, how many chocolate bars have you bought?
Steve Wright: Well, I didn’t buy any yet.
Chris Kresser: All right. You’ve got it saved?
Steve Wright: I will say that I’m blown away by the discounts on the cleaning and laundry stuff. I think that stuff’s great. It’s hard to get that stuff ever at a discount. You know, you can shop around for chocolate bars on sale. It’s just rather annoying if you don’t get the brand you want. But no, I really appreciate what you’re doing here, Gunnar. I think this is something that everybody should just sign up for and check out. Because once they start looking around a little bit, they’re going to realize how much of what’s in their house, or maybe they wish they could switch over to certain cleaning products but haven’t yet. So I think it’s just signing up and spending a little bit of time. Next thing you know, you might be saving a lot of money every month.
Chris Kresser: Yeah. We used cloth diapers early on with Sylvie, but we kind of fell off the wagon a little later, I hate to admit. But when I think about the money we could have saved just on diapers alone, it’s pretty staggering. Thanks again, Gunnar. We wish you the best of luck. We definitely would love to have you back in a year or so, maybe have a recap and see how it’s gone.
Gunnar Lovelace: Thank you. Thank you, guys. It’s really an honor to have your support.
Chris Kresser: Bye, everyone. We’ll see you next week.
Steve Wright: Thanks, everyone, for listening. You can still submit your questions at ChrisKresser.com/podcastquestion. In-between episodes, if you’re wondering what Chris is up to or what he’s researching for the next articles, the best place to get the information before the articles come out, before these podcasts come out is on the social media outlets. So make sure you’re following him at Twitter.com/ChrisKresser and Facebook.com/ChrisKresserLAc. We’ll see you on the next episode.
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