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Putting the flex into flexitarian, San Francisco-based Thistle food service company will pay people to eat locally

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - The Sudra, an Indian vegetarian restaurant in North Missisippi Avenue in Portland, is the kind of place the customers of Thistle, a plant-forward meal kit delivery service, might eat. Thistle is offering customers $25 toward their tab on local food carts and restaurants as a promotion. The promotion could cost the San Francisco-based tech startup Thistle up to $250,000.

The plant-based meal kit service Thistle is offering up to $250,000 to area diners to use, not Thistle's product, but local food carts and restaurants.

The curious Thistle Dine Out marketing move runs June 1 to 30, 2021, for as long as funds last. The move aims to encourage people to sign up for Thistle accounts. Thistle will reimburse West Coast-based customers up to $25 in their Thistle account to skip the delivery apps and take advantage of dine-in or take-out orders from their favorite local spots. Thistle says it has committed up to $250,000 to be distributed to eligible participants.

COURTESY PHOTO: THISTLE - Thistle co-founder and CEO, Ashwin Cheriyan with his family. The company hopes to acquire customers in Portland at $25 a head.

The Business Tribune asked Thistle's co-founder and CEO, Ashwin Cheriyan, what the San Francisco-based company can do for Portlanders. His email answers have been edited for brevity.

Business Tribune: Does the $250,000 come straight out of a VC fund, and if so, do they approve?

Ashwin Cheriyan: We feel we're all responsible for helping support our local communities and helping us all get back on our feet. We've been very fortunate to be growing quickly since we were founded in 2013, and that has only accelerated over the last year. With this growth, we're in a position to try and help those that have been hardest impacted in our communities, which are often those in the food/restaurant space. This isn't a winner take all game. We just want to do our part.

BT: Did you price locally? San Francisco dinners cost more than Portland.

AC: Our offer to reimburse West Coast foodies up to $25 per person is the same for all eligible participants across the region. We understand that some may spend less while others spend more than $25 on their meal out, and that's great! Our goal is to encourage as many people as possible to support their local restaurants or food trucks first and foremost.

BT: Are you more successful in highly vegan zip codes, like Northeast and Southeast Portland, than in less?

AC: It's a good question! While Thistle is predominantly plant-based, the majority of our customers actually self-identify as flexitarians versus a vegan-only diet. We have not yet found a direct correlation between where our customers are based in Portland and how frequently they are ordering Thistle. What we have found, however, is that our Portland customers have loved their Thistle experience, and the customer base has grown by roughly 200% since the start of the year.

BT: Why $25? Why not $250?

AC: As we begin to make our way to the other side of this pandemic, we wanted to encourage as many people as possible to safely get out in June and support their favorite local restaurants or food trucks. Our total commitment of $250,000 would ensure that up to 10,000 could participate in Thistle Dines Out, and we hope as many people as possible take us up on our offer.

COURTESY PHOTO: THISTLE - Thistle, the plant forward meal kit service, is offering Portlanders $25 off their tab if they eat out locally and sign up for Thistle.

BT: How does the Thistle "plant-forward" meal delivery differ from other meal delivery where you can choose veg/vegan?

AC: We believe we are the only company offering fresh, fully prepared, plant-based meals delivered to the doorsteps of our customers in our format. We also believe our priority on taste sets us apart in helping make the healthy choice the default choice. We offer a seasonal, globally-inspired rotating menu of plant-forward breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and healthy snacks and desserts. Our goal is to help make eating a crave-able, whole-food, plant-based diet truly a delightful experience you can sustain for the long haul. For customers who may not be ready to go 100% plant-based, we also offer the option to add healthy, sustainably and ethically sourced animal proteins, including eggs, poultry & responsibly sourced seafood. We believe that our commitment to sustainability also makes Thistle stand out from the competition. Our food is produced and packaged in facilities that run on 100% non-polluting renewable energy from wind and solar. Our packaging is 100% recyclable and made with 65% less energy than normal PET, 15% post-consumer recycled plastic, 15% solar energy and reusable. We partner with local farmers, artisans, and producers who are stewards of the land and employ sustainable, regenerative, and transparent practices to help build a better food system. We purchase verifiable carbon offsets for all of our customer deliveries, supporting projects that preserve forests, reduce pollution, and improve livelihoods.

BT: What is your burn rate?

AC: As a private company, we don't disclose financial information but take a measured strategy where spend and investment reflect projected growth.

BT: How does this compare to other marketing expenses?

AC: If we're successful at helping some local restaurants get back on their feet while raising awareness for Thistle, we figure that's a win-win.

BT: What are your most popular dishes?

AC: In terms of some of our most popular items, our Grilled Corn & Poblano Chile Salad, which brings together a colorful and crunchy cabbage slaw, sweet corn, toasted pepitas, and our famous housemade roasted jalapeño (vegan) ranch dressing, consistently gets rave reviews from our customers (we review every piece of feedback). Our highest-rated dinners are often healthier, plant-forward takes on traditional comfort foods, like our Enchilada Bake, our Green Thai Curry, and our Kale Caesar Pasta. Customers also love our decadent sweet treats, like our Reishi Chocolate Chunk Cookie Dough Balls and our Peanut Butter Mousse Cup. We also make some fabulous savory snacks that people love, including our rich, creamy Cashew Pub Cheese Plate with Almonds and Grapes.


In a news release, Thistle clarified: "To participate, West Coast foodies must show proof of their dining experience via an uploaded receipt on ThistleDinesOut.com between June 1-30. Thistle will credit the cost of the meal up to $25 in every customer's Thistle account with an overall commitment of $250,000. Given the local nature of this initiative and to ensure every dollar spent goes back to small business owners, receipts from national or global dining chains or any national or local delivery services will not be valid for the redemption."


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