Lisa Merkle on Box Greens, Sustainability, and the Future of Hydroponic Farming

On this episode of The Barron Report, host Paul Barron sits down with Lisa Merkle, the co-founder and executive director of Box Greens. A former yoga teacher and holistic health coach, Merkle co-founded Box Greens in 2018 with business partner Cheryl Arnold. Box Greens offers urban South Florida access to hydroponic box farms filled with fresh leafy greens, herbs, and microgreens. Barron and Merkle explore the science behind hydroponic farming, the growing national interest in plant-based eating, and current adoption of agriculture technology in Florida.

“A big part of our mission is using the business as a platform to talk about sustainable farming practices,” says Merkle. Restaurants and individual consumers who use local sources for ingredients can trust that there is minimal to “no impact on the environment from the transportation of the food.”

Box Greens transforms old shipping containers into indoor hydroponic farms. Racks, an irrigation system, an HVAC system, and lighting are fully built into each container. No dirt is used—the plants are not placed in any soil, and absorb all necessary minerals from the water. Box Greens uses floating rafts to allow for a constant flow of recirculated water as farmers monitor the minerals and pH levels.

On average, a functioning container can produce about 600 to 800 heads of lettuce per week all year round, and a 320 square foot hydroponic farm yields the same amount of produce as a traditional 1-2 acre farm.

For Merkle, education is key. “One of [Florida’s] biggest economic industries is agriculture,” notes Merkle, “and it’s behind when it comes to adopting technology.” She has found that many people do not realize the lettuce they consume for lunch was likely harvested weeks ago in California, and has changed hands many times. “And in the process,” she adds, “it’s lost its nutritional value to a pretty serious degree, and flavor.”

Plant-based diets, to Merkle, are the future. “Leafy greens have the highest concentration of vitamins and minerals,” says Merkle. “Food for a lot of people comes down to access—both in terms of physical accessibility and price point.” And hydroponic farming is “an incredible opportunity to turn people on to plant-based eating.”

Check out the podcast above to learn more about how Box Greens began, using hydroponic farming with vegetables and fruits, and possible partnerships with local restaurants and research universities. And if you would like to keep listening, check out The Barron Report podcast on iTunes Now!

Produced by:

Paul Barron

Paul Barron

Editor-in-Chief/Executive Producer


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Phononic Debuts a Mobile, Sustainable Merchandising Freezer

Current refrigeration and freezing technologies—largely consisting of compressors—have been in use for over a hundred years. However, compressors have a number of sustainability concerns and are typically limited to placement in the back of a store, restaurant, or bar.

Dana Krug, the vice president and general manager of food and beverage for Phononic, aims to change that. Phononic crafts products that use earth-friendly semiconductor chips for solid-state cooling. The refrigerant that Phononic uses is solely composed of water and low pressure carbon dioxide. And this past year, the company released the Phononic F200, a revolutionary merchandising freezer.

“The power consumption is low enough that you can run four of these off of a single breaker,” says Krug. “And it doesn’t take much room on the counter. If I want to have this in a quick serve restaurant, check out lane, or right next to the register, I can do that.”

The branding—composed of magnets and decals—on the Phononic F200 can also be changed in under a minute, allowing for easy rebranding for a new product launch.

One of Phononic’s most successful brand engagements has been with Coolhaus, a women-founded and -led company in the premium ice cream space. “Coolhaus has been one of our best lifting brands so far,” notes Krug.

The Phononic F200 is currently in use in grocery stores, bakeries, bars, restaurants, and a number of mass merchants, and is available in eight different countries through its partnership with Unilever. Krug adds that while he cannot yet say the company’s name, Phononic has also recently partnered with one of the largest compressor companies in the world.

According to Krug, Phononic is currently eyeing mobile delivery possibilities. “You have the ability to move [the Phononic F200] from place to place,” says Krug. “If you want to deliver Coolhaus to your front door, there’s a mechanism.”

Check out the video above to learn more about the technological processes behind the Phononic F200 and what else is ahead for the company.

Produced by:

Paul Barron

Paul Barron

Editor-in-Chief/Executive Producer


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Data is King: How to Leverage Your Consumer Insights to Drive Catering, Delivery Sales

On this episode of the Takeout, Delivery, and Catering Show, podcast host Valerie Killifer sits down with Daring Solutions founder and CEO Jeff Chasney.

Daring Solutions uses artificial intelligence to optimize restaurant kitchens and directly help staff improve sales, profits, and customer satisfaction. In this episode, Chasney shares how industry operators can leverage data to grow long-term sales in a marketplace that has been trending toward off-premise—according to Chasney, a reported 22 percent of delivery drivers tamper with orders.

“Data is of paramount importance not in and of itself, but in the analytics that you can draw,” says Chasney. Data needs to be kept in a coherent system that is properly validated and updated as needed. “There’s a lot of data that gets accumulated by any point of sales system. The key is not getting as much as you can, but is getting great quality data as it is coming into your system.”

For Chasney, analytics is key to keeping in line with—or getting ahead of—competition. “Our competitive landscape is getting more and more crowded, and we’re all fighting for the same share of stomach,” notes Chasney. “Everybody can only eat so much in a day.” How you leverage data to identify and attract your customer can mean life or death for your restaurant.

Check out the episode above to learn more about properly storing data and how Chasney’s company uses artificial intelligence to improve a restaurant’s maximum number of customers during peak hours.

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Produced by:

Darisha Beresford

Darisha Beresford

Production Manager / Sr. Producer

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SLAB BBQ on Catering and Channel Management as a Fast Casual Restaurant

On this episode of the Takeout, Delivery, and Catering Show, podcast hosts Valerie Killifer and Erle Dardick chat with Mark Avalos and Rafael Robinson, the co-owners of SLAB BBQ.

Avalos began SLAB in a barbecue trailer as a catering business in 2006. He subsequently opened a food trailer at the University of Texas in Austin, and established the company’s first brick and mortar restaurant location in 2014 with Rafael Robinson. A second SLAB BBQ location was opened in 2016.

In this unique episode, guests Avalos and Robinson ask the questions. As a small, independent fast casual restaurant, they are concerned about the cost of maintaining their company’s catering business, where to invest their time and money, and how best to implement the five pillars in the context of their restaurant.

“One of the headaches that I’ve had is trying to figure out—does full service catering fit with the concept of a fast casual restaurant?” asks Avalos. “The full service catering side isn’t doing enough to stand alone, and we can’t hire people, so we have to share the resources of our brick and mortar. The busiest days of our restaurant are on the weekend.” As he notes, many fast casual restaurants do not invest in catering.

“Ultimately, you have a consumer who wants to spend more money with your brand. And they want solutions at a particular time in their day,” says Dardick. “The more solutions that you can offer for their particular opportunity to feed them, the more revenue you’re going to capture.”

“This is the complexity that you’re managing as an operator,” adds Dardick. “You need to figure out what your channels are. Once you understand that dynamic, you can backfill.”

Check out the episode above to learn more about the pros and cons of working with third party vendors, the necessity of gratuities, and best marketing strategies!

Produced by:

Nathan Mikita

Nathan Mikita

Director of New Media/Producer


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Three Ways to Keep Your Restaurant From Failing

The economic forecast for the restaurant industry is discouraging—restaurant markets have become oversaturated, labor and food costs are rising, overall sales look weak, consumers are constantly searching for something new and maintain unpredictable loyalties, and banks and investors are not eager to invest.

For current and aspiring restaurant operators, having a game plan is key. As Paul Barron discusses in the above video, there are three key strategies for ensuring that your restaurant succeeds: Cross Competitive Marketing, Multi-Platform Retargeting, and Content Marketing & Execution.

Cross competitive analysis is all about covertly acquiring your competitors’ customers. Tools like Sprout Social are essential for the survival of opening or struggling restaurants. Sprout Social uses digital customer relationship management (CRM) to build lists of the types of customers and influencers your competition is catering to—all to ultimately determine what those customers are looking for in a restaurant.

According to Barron, operators tend to make the same mistake. “They do blanket advertising on digital and think they’ve checked the box,” says Barron. “That’s not how you do digital marketing.” List building and targeting, social conquesting, and studying browser behavior is paramount.

Another helpful tip? Geo seeking. Cell phones are constantly sending data from the apps consumers use to a data provider—and that data provider subsequently sells the data to companies trying to target those consumers.

Operators who choose to acquire that data can target their marketing by geo location, competitors, lookalikes, or influence. Advertisements can even be dependent on a customer’s browser behavior.

“Don’t think about your competition as just competition,” adds Barron. “Think about your competition as their customers.”

To learn more about the value of bounce back cards, training a SEAL team of employees, and the importance of having a story, check out the video above!

Produced by:

Paul Barron

Paul Barron

Editor-in-Chief/Executive Producer


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