This week we talk to Jerry Li and Alene Sullivan, founders of Wholesome Market. Jerry is from an immigrant family and saw first-hand the difficulty and expense of accessing healthy food if you are a low-income family. While Alene, being a mum, wanted to start a business that is socially conscious and breaks down the barriers for those who can’t necessarily afford food that is nutritious.
ISB: What was the inspiration behind you founding Wholesome Market?
JL & AS: In 2020, we set out to solve the problem of getting nourishing, high quality, planet-friendly products into the pantries of more Australians. Our goal was for all Australians, regardless of means, to have an opportunity to eat and live healthy.
So, we created an online eco-health pantry that offers 3000+ products from 120+ leading Australian brands. Our carefully curated selection of brands embodies the ethos and values that are the foundation of Wholesome. Transparency is paramount and we’ve taken the guesswork out of shopping healthily.
ISB: And how does your business model work and enable clients to save money on their groceries?
JL & AS: Our annual membership model, which is only about $5 a month, allows us to remove traditional retail mark-ups, passing the savings on to our members – we’ve saved them over $800,000 to date.
Members also enjoy free, carbon-neutral shipping, exclusive specials and free goodies with every order. Furthermore, for every new member who signs up we donate a free membership to a low-income family and five free healthy meals to a struggling family.
ISB: What was the biggest challenge in getting the enterprise off the ground, and how did you overcome it?
JL & AS: Flipping the lid on the traditional retail model and introducing a membership model for healthy groceries was and still is a challenge as Australians largely aren’t accustomed to the requirement of a membership to access groceries. Our decision to persevere with this model was the right decision. Through a conventional retail model, we would not be able to sell our products at prices lower than retail, thereby undermining the foundational mission.
ISB: I understand sustainability is at the core of the enterprise – how does this manifest itself in your say-to-day operations?
JL & AS: Sustainability and transparency are ingrained in everything we do. Our day-to-day decisions on everything from packaging to mode of delivery to the brands and suppliers with whom we work impact our business’s carbon footprint. We use 100 per cent post-consumer recyclable materials for packaging, prioritise ground deliveries and offset all carbon emissions from deliveries. We also ensure the companies with whom we work uphold the same ideals and values that we do by only working with brand partners and supplying products that meet our inhouse sustainability criteria.
ISB: Please tell us briefly about your partnership with OzHarvest, and what you aim to achieve through that collaboration.
JL & AS: We recognise that there are too many Australians that can’t even afford food at a very fundamental level. We sought out a partnership with OzHarvest given that healthy eating and nutritional programs are integral to the organisation’s purpose and goals. The incredible work they do in relation to food waste, food security and sustainability in Australia is inspiring and our companies’ ethoses are very much aligned.
ISB: And, finally, what is your vision for the growth and development of Wholesome Market in the next couple of years?
JL & AS: We anticipate considerable growth over the next couple of years as we continue to gain traction in the market and our membership base grows. We are currently excited to be working on a rebrand and a new website which will be more aligned to our target market visually and the way in which we communicate across digital platforms.
We measure our success not by revenue and profit but by how much we are saving Australians on healthy groceries and how many free memberships and healthy meals we are able to donate. We look forward to continuing to move the goal posts, saving our members even more each year.