How Thrive Market Reached $400 Million in Sales While Making Online Grocery More Sustainable

Illustration by Grey Thornberry.

Thrive co-founder Nick Green shares his approach to offering healthy food for cheap, in a way that helps the planet.

Nick Green had sold his first business and was looking for startups to invest in when a pitch from Gunnar Lovelace resonated more deeply than expected. Lovelace was founding a startup that would facilitate group-buying events for healthy, sustainable products, with a mission to increase the accessibility of healthy, organic foods across the country, especially in food deserts. That mission hit home for Green, who quickly went from listening to Gunnar’s pitch to pitching Gunnar himself on why the two of them should start a company together.

“There’s all these different barriers to getting healthy in this country,” Green says. “We started basically studying other business models out there to say, what could we do that would make it close to affordable? And the goal we set was, let’s get natural organic products at or below the price of conventional equivalence.”

In 2014, the pair founded Thrive Market in Los Angeles. Going the wholesale route would mean customers would have to wait around for their produce, which also didn’t seem practical. Ultimately, Green and Lovelace landed on a model that would allow them to fund inventory in advance and bring value to their customers: a Costco-like membership plan. Today, for a $60 annual fee, 1.2 million members get organic groceries, cleaning supplies, and clean beauty products sustainably shipped to them via Thrive Market.

They’ve also added two other co-founders, and have come to think of the business as the “Un-Amazon.” That’s because unlike Amazon’s seemingly infinite scroll of items, Thrive Market’s inventory is highly curated to offer only a limited range of competitively priced organic and sustainably-sourced products.

“For our members, that simplifies the process. It means they can outsource their trust to us. It means they can shop more quickly,” Green says. “For us, it means we can concentrate our purchasing power on pure brands, which means we get better pricing.”

Winning the trust of consumers has entailed implementing a no-air shipping policy–air freight has 5x the carbon footprint compared to ground shipping, according to Thrive–and becoming True Zero Waste Certified by Green Business Certification Inc (GBCI), an organization that independently recognizes excellence in green business industry performance and practice through third-party verification services.

So far, Green and Lovelace’s model appears to be working. In 2020, Thrive became the largest online grocer in the U.S. to be B Corp certified, and in 2021, the company generated more than $400 million in annual revenue. Thrive also plans to be plastic-free by the end of 2023 and carbon negative by 2025, says Green.

“Our approach was that health is more than just physical health for individuals. It’s the health of communities, it’s the health of the supply chain, it’s the health of the planet,” he added.

To listen to the full interview with Green, click on the player above, or find What I Know on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or anywhere you get your audio.