The Italian Nonna is the foundation of every Italian family; she plays a vital role in reinforcing beliefs, traditions and family closeness. Of course, if Nonna is around, she is usually in charge of preparing food, and offering you always more than you need. A weekly meal at grandmother’s house has been a welcome cornerstone in most Italians’ lives.
This is, in a nutshell, what compelled Guido Pedrelli, a young Italian entrepreneur, to move to San Francisco and launch Nonna Box. This FoodTech startup offers subscription packages for mail order gourmet products accompanied by recipes from a different Italian Nonna every month.
Many startups are competing to disrupt the $600 billion groceries industry, threatening the supermarkets’ dominance. There are different tactics, ranging from high-end products to simpler delivery solutions. Nonna Box is counting on the fact that everybody loves grandma and there is a market, especially among Italians living in the US and Italian Americans, for nostalgic recipes with Italian ingredients and flavors.
Since I had the best Nonna in the world, I could not pass up the opportunity to interview Guido about his business.
What did you do before starting Nonna Box?
“Right after I got my degree in Marketing, Communication and Advertising in 2005 from the Universita’ per Stranieri di Perugia, I moved to Madrid, Spain where I lived for 8 years. There I worked for different companies including IBM and eRepublik, an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) strategy game where I was in charge of online marketing and user acquisition. During that time I also started several casual gaming portals that eventually grew to 20 which are spread out across several European countries. While in Madrid I also earned an MBA from the IE Business School, one of the top 3 business schools in Europe.”
How did you wind up with Nonna Box?
“I have always loved food. My grandpa and grandma ran a two-generation family owned trattoria – a traditional Italian restaurant – in San Carlo di Cesena, in the Emilia-Romagna region. Giosuè Carducci, the Italian Nobel Prize winner in Literature, was among the usual guests at their restaurant. On Sunday, my entire family including parents, siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins would spend the day at my grandma’s house and she would cook for us all. I remember watching mesmerized, as she would whip up delicious meals; tagliatelle, ragu alla bolognese and more. Her food was an expression of her love for our family and it became more than just delicious food, it became a source of familial connection and an opportunity to bond with all the relatives.
“I wanted to bring this tradition of sharing wonderful food with one’s loved ones to the US, so I started Nonna Box. With Nonna Box I hope that people will enjoy each box in a loving environment, cooking the recipes of local nonnas from all over Italy, using high quality Italian products and, at the same time, learning about authentic Italian traditions and culture.”
When you started, did you know the first thing about the food business?
“Not exactly, when I started I thought the process was going to be a lot easier. Now that I understand a little bit more about the food industry, and specifically how importing works, I understand the difficulties and challenges that this business presents. The end customer, the one who buys imported products, doesn’t always understand the process and costs involved in bringing international food to the US. It is our objective to educate customers about the reasons why Italian products cost more.”
What business factors played into doing this?
“I moved to the US 3 years ago and I experienced first-hand the rise of the subscription box business model. I realized that this business model could also work well with Italian food, given the interest that foreigners have in Italian culture and dishes, especially in the US.”
How are you marketing it?
“Like many businesses right now, our marketing efforts focus mainly on social media and email marketing, these have been the most successful strategies so far.”
Who is tasting Nonna Box’s recipes?
“I personally taste all the recipes that come with the box. I spend a weekend every month testing each recipe and taking pictures of the monthly box.”
How are customers reacting to your service?
“Customers love Nonna Box, several have subscribed since the beginning. I continue to receive emails from customers thanking me for the service, the quality of the products and for bringing a little bit of Italy into their homes.”
How did you fund the business at the beginning? Did you have any outside investors?
“I am currently bootstrapping the business with personal funds. Fortunately, we have been cash flow positive since the beginning.”
What was the first step you took to turn this idea into a real business?
“I started contacting suppliers for the products and I started working with a designer to shape the brand identity of the logo and the website.”
What’s the average price of a Nonna Box?
“It depends on the subscription plan. It starts at $50 per box with a 6/month prepaid subscription, $55 per box if you prepay 3/months and $59.95 for the month to month plan. We also have a one-time box deal that sells for $65.”
What is your path to growth?
“While the number of customers continues to grow, there’s still a lot that can be done to improve the product and to align it with my vision. I believe that making some improvements, along with continuing to provide great service and great products will lead to exponential growth.”
What mistakes did you make, if any, when starting this business?
“My only regret is that I didn’t start earlier, when I first thought about the idea. I could have just set up a landing page and validated the idea in less than a day.”