Think big vegetable market. Stands and stands of colourful, nutritious and seasonal vegetables. All organic and grown from heirloom seeds – no pesticides or chemical fertilisers involved. Now put all of those in a basket. Order it as you like and pick it up at a convenient location in the city. This is Cosul de Legume and its co-founder is Matei Dumitrescu.
Already as a child, Matei dreamed of becoming a farmer. Many years and several startups later, he has found the right people to fulfill his childhood dreams.
He has combined his passion for agriculture and his entrepreneurial drive and experience to co-found Cosul de Legume, which in Romanian means “vegetable basket”. Cosul de Legume brings together production, distribution, education, and branding of organic heirloom vegetables in Bucharest.
The early days
After finishing high school, it became clear to Matei that he wanted to do his own thing and be his own boss. He studied economics in Bucharest, and started a myriad of businesses, including some in IT, music production, translation services, tourism, real estate and more. In total, he counts over 15 years of entrepreneurial experience in small and medium enterprises. His childhood dream, which had been set aside for many years, was reinvigorated when he and his wife Sabina got children and their attitudes towards food changed. Where the food comes from, how it has been produced, and the nutritional value of it became important questions. Matei and Sabina found like-minded partners in their long-term friends Andrei and Alexandra Barbu.
CEO Matei Dumitrescu, Photo credit: Cosul de LegumeAndrei had already been farming since 2009, producing and delivering fresh herbs to consumers in Bucharest. Spurred by the birth of their children, the four of them teamed up and combined their conviction for organic traditional produce with their passion for building business models for “small businesses with big potential”. The strong interest by the team to grow the venture was fueled by demand from consumers for greens and other vegetables. “Since we were already delivering products to their doors, it seemed like a natural step to produce these plants as well,” says Matei and adds that “from this point to the 50 types of vegetables we have now, it was only a very small step.”
Inspired by community-supported agriculture, Cosul de Legume was officially founded in 2011 and ever since, it has been delivering organic vegetable baskets to consumers in Bucharest. Going by the motto “beyond organic”, Cosul de legume grows and delivers vegetables from farm to fork. All vegetables are “not only organic, grown without pesticides or chemical fertilisers, but also deliver their maximum nutritional value. Also, all seeds are heirloom or heritage seeds,” says Matei. The team is convinced that these seeds deliver better taste than modern seeds, which “combined with greenhouse technologies have negatively impacted the nutrient content of our everyday food. Growing vegetables that have been around for decades, centuries even, offers a nutritional alternative for the consumer.”
Basket after basket
Cosul de Legume’s startup phase was financed by the team itself, and the business developed well. “We have doubled our orders and deliveries year over year since we started,” says Matei. “In a normal week, we deliver more than 100 baskets. Before the end of the year, we have budgeted to have around 100.000 items sold.” Cosul de Legume reached its break-even point this year, and has annual revenues between 100.000 and 500.000 euros.
The vegetable baskets are delivered either on a weekly subscription basis or upon order. Customers can pick them up at different drop-off points in the city such as kindergartens, gyms, family restaurants, and coworking spaces, to name a few.
”We realised that the market for organic vegetables overlaps with the market for other specialty products. So, we thought that it would be much easier to have all these interesting, niche products in one place,” says Matei. The outcome of the partnerships with various delivery partners seems to be quite positive.
On the one hand, the drop-off venue benefits from new customers coming to pick up their baskets and getting to know the location and its services. Also, partners benefit from positive branding due to their focus on organic produce and sustainability. On the other hand, customers of partnering shops, coworking spaces, restaurants, or schools, get to know Cosul de Legume. An active exchange of customers is the result.
The team also heavily focuses on education, delivering workshops and presentations about food, nutrition, and organic farming at conferences and in schools.
Photo credit: Cosul de LegumeDiversity is the key
At Cosul de Legume, diversity seems to be key. And teamwork, obviously, as all four founders are involved in running the business. Andrei, who comes from IT, now specialises in farming and runs the production. Matei isthe frontrunner on the business side, creating B2B partnerships and sales, and takes care of scaling the business. Sabina has a background in HR and Communications, and she is the one who takes care of creative workshops for children and education, and together with Alexandra, who comes from design and branding, handles marketing, communications and client relationships.
Their common values in regard to sustainable consumer and lifestyle choices are keeping all four business partners aligned. “We come from different backgrounds, from IT to psychology, but we are going back to agriculture to put into practice our common values and principles regarding the food we eat and especially the food our children receive,” says Matei.
Too small for a basket?
The team of four seem to have laid the foundation of a (literally) healthy startup. Now, their next big goal is to become the leading online retailer for organic vegetables in Bucharest, as well as a brand for organic products. “We would like to bundle different products and producers, from different types of agriculture – from the milk producers in the Carpathian mountains, to fruit and berry farmers on the hills of Moldova, to the duck breeders in the Danube Delta,” says Matei.
What started as a vegetable basket could soon become an umbrella brand for complimentary products such as processed fruits and vegetables and potentially even meat and dairy products. At that point, a basket may become a word too small.