Stories @CSI: Karrot.ca makes selling artisan food easy
Meet Lucas Lu, fearless entrepreneur and founder of Karrot.ca—an online marketplace that links artisan food producers with local coffee shops, catering companies, and other wholesale buyers. Think etsy.com but with a food focus and exclusively for large volume customers.
Lucas’ pluck comes out early and often. For me, the first sign is in how quickly he agrees to split my homemade green breakfast smoothie (there’s no greater ice breaker, I’ve found), abandoning his breakfast croissant. This earns him immediate and serious cred in my books. We move the interview to the ground floor CSI Annex Coffee Pub, where I watch Lucas expertly enumerate the eight or so ingredients in the smoothie to some fellow CSIers. “Do you sell these?” one asks me. I’m about to find out that, if I did, I’d be wise to take advantage of the services Karrot offers.
Karrot relieves small batch, high quality local food producers of much of their admin and sales duties by providing a convenient ordering (and importantly, re-ordering) platform for wholesale buyers. The aim is that artisan producers will have more time and energy for making great food.
It’s part of Lucas’ overall vision that food can be (and in fact is) a central part of vibrant communities. Karrot addresses the administrative obstacles that producers of high quality food face in getting their products to the market.
Lucas learned firsthand about these challenges through his first venture, Grocery Bunny, a group-buying website that offered weekly deals on locally made artisan foods. The company pivoted into Karrot.ca when Lucas realized that the discounted food model was ultimately unsustainable. What small producers needed most was access to wholesale buyers, and while Toronto has no shortage of independent coffee shops and small restaurants in the market for these foods, it lacked a simple, elegant way of connecting artisan producers to local buyers.
Lucas credits CSI’s Youth Agents of Change program in helping him and his talented developer, Andrew MacPherson, launch Karrot.ca. As one of 21 finalists in the mentoring program, Lucas has made full use of his Hot Desk package. But more importantly, he appreciates the endless access to the creativity and inspiration housed under CSI’s roof. Attending weekly Small Business Success workshops with Project Wildfire’s Mike Brcic, for example, is an especially sweet benefit, Lucas says.
When I ask about his biggest business challenge, he’s quick to reframe it as an opportunity. As a young entrepreneur, having to build an extensive network from scratch is a tough reality. But he loves meeting people and hearing their stories. His dream connection? Someone with the humour of Conan O’Brian, the wisdom of Barry Schwartz, the adventurousness of Mike Brcic, and the charisma of Barack Obama, he says jokingly.
Something tells me that that’s not such a far off prospect in CSI’s three – soon to be four – locations.
Look out for Lucas drinking a green smoothie at a Hot Desk near you.