MilkRun Wants to Fix the Broken Food Supply Chain

The Austin startup just raised $6 million for its D2C subscription boxes offering produce, meat and other goods from local farmers.
Written by Jeff Rumage
November 8, 2021Updated: November 8, 2021
MilkRun delivers boxes of food in partnership with local farmers.
photo: milkrun

Small family farms are in trouble.

It’s tough work involving long hours, tight margins and increasing corporate consolidation.

Julia Niiro learned this lesson the hard way, after quitting her corporate marketing job, starting her own farm in Portland, Oregon, and realizing the numerous economic issues stacked up against the American farmer.

After talking with more than 200 farmers, butchers and other food purveyors in the area, she learned farmers only see 10 percent of the price their products fetch at big-box grocery stores. The rest of the money goes to processing, packaging, distributing and reselling the food.

In 2018, Niiro founded MilkRun, a subscription service that delivers weekly grocery staples like produce, meat, dairy, eggs and milk — all sourced directly from small, local farms. MilkRun contributes half of its sales proceeds to farmers and local producers.

The company grew 15 times over in 2020, expanding its services to Seattle and Austin. The company now has 43 employees and works with more than 300 farms.

The company moved its headquarters to Austin in late 2020 with the help of $2.2 million in seed funding raised in July 2020.

Why Austin? Niiro told Built In that they realized they needed a more centralized location, with the ability to reach new markets, in order to reach a broader audience and achieve its goals for growth.

“Central Texas has an incredible network of farmers that we felt MilkRun could support,” she said. “With the city’s proximity to Houston and Dallas, there's plenty of room to grow in Texas and beyond.” 

MilkRun will continue to scale even further with $6 million in fresh funding. The Series A round, announced November 5, was led by Spark Capital, with participation from existing investors Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, Social Impact Capital and Congruent VC. 

Niiro said she plans to raise a Series B round in 2022 and has set her sights on expanding services to the East Coast in the near future. 

Also in ATXThe Future 5 of Austin Tech, Q4 2021

 

A Reimagined Milkman

MilkRun is the milkman model, reimagined. It offers a recurring subscription for its locally sourced groceries with no minimum order, no subscription fees and free, contactless delivery. 

“There’s often a misconception that eating sustainably and supporting local farms requires a drastic shift in your eating habits or lifestyle to have an impact on the food industry and supply chain,” Niiro said. “MilkRun is here to tear down these false narratives and revolutionize the way we source our food.” 

MilkRun founder and CEO Julie Niiro
MilkRun founder and ceo julia niiro

Niiro said MilkRun was designed to support small-scale farmers by fixing two problems in the farming supply chain: distribution and low pay. If more people opted to use MilkRun for a small weekly delivery of eggs or dairy, Niiro said local farmers would see an influx of millions of dollars annually. 

“MilkRun has created a modern, local, and sustainable way for everyday people to access their local farms, supporting local food systems while increasing the resiliency of our food system,” Abe Yokell, a managing partner at Congruent Venture, said in a statement. “We believe Julia’s vision of enabling local farm marketplaces across the country is a key component to creating a sustainable food system.”

Through its close relationship with producers, MilkRun also shares stories from farmers, fishers, bakers, butchers and producers alongside easy-to-follow, chef-developed recipes using the weekly featured ingredients. 

We believe changing the world begins one neighborhood — and one egg — at a time.”

 

A Pivot in Produce

MilkRun started by offering specially curated boxes, but after some reevaluation earlier this year, the company decided to scale back on curated boxes and shift to a subscription-based service that offers weekly food staples.

The shift makes it easier for MilkRun’s team and farmers to anticipate the amount of food they’ll need to produce each month, which drastically reduces food waste and maximizes capacity. 

The shift also makes it easier for consumers to purchase local, sustainably sourced food. Local subscription boxes can include orders as small as a loaf of bread, a half-gallon of milk or a carton of eggs.

“Our mission at MilkRun is making it easy for every home in America to buy even just their eggs from a local farmer,” Niiro said. “That’s because we believe changing the world begins one neighborhood — and one egg — at a time."

Jobs at MilkRun

Austin startup guides

LOCAL GUIDE
Best Companies to Work for in Austin
LOCAL GUIDE
Coolest Tech Offices in Austin
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Perks at Austin Tech Companies
LOCAL GUIDE
Women in Austin Tech