Thistle’s globally-inspired meals are developed by nutritionists and chefs using primarily plant-based foods, including fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grains.
“The reason that we still exist and why our business continues to thrive and have an impact is because we never compromised on product quality, and we never compromised on those foundational aspects,” Cheriyan explained.
Founded by married duo, Ashwin Cheriyan and Shiri Avnery, who, despite their backgrounds in law and environmental science, respectively, built Thistle to address two critical issues: food’s impact on health of people and the planet. Cheriyan explained he believes that the benefits of a plant-based diet address critical diet-related health issues, while reducing animal protein consumption is “one of the best ways to reduce your environmental footprint.”
The refreshed brand features a logo in an earthy color palette of oat and peppercorn, along with an updated website and packaging, which “reflects Thistle's progression, growth, and continued commitment to empowering healthy living for both people and the planet," according to a statement. Further, the company elaborated on the significance of its namesake flower as a regenerative plant that returns nutrients to the soil.
Creating a flexible supply chain
Thistle’s supply chain is nimble, Cheriyan said, with a diverse selection of ingredients that allows for quick changes in the menu due to unforeseen price increases or availability changes, while maintaining a similar health profile.
Cheriyan described Thistle as a vertically integrated company with its own internal team who are responsible for most of its operations from procuring ingredients to developing recipes for a menu that changes each week, providing an opportunity for consumers to try new meals more often.
“Our menu changes [and] that’s why customers stay with us. They want variety and they don’t want the same thing over and over again,” he explained.
Thistle’s ingredients are seasonal, which Cheriyan noted creates a more productive supply chain, where growers receive demand for products that are already available to grow.
The team self-funded and received capital from friends and family during its early stages, until 2020 when the company began receiving venture capital. Cheriyan attributed the company’s relatively consistent growth to allocating dollars “not to a specific project,” but “into making the underlying product better.”
Cheriyan added, “There’s an incredible amount of faith that people are putting in us … and you cannot squander that trust … And just knowing how sacred that is, informs just how our company behaves when it comes to every single decision we make. There are absolutely opportunities for us to save cost, increase margin, but it will come at the cost of the product quality or customer or their health.”
Thistle's growth comes from word of mouth
Cheriyan cited that despite customer confusion around Thistle’s branding and user experience around its ordering system, Cheriyan took these as a “point of pride,” as it did not slow down orders.
The company continues to rely on word-of-mouth, with “more than a third of Thistle customers” finding the brand through a friend or family member.
“If [people] really love something, and it actually makes a positive impact in their lives, they’ll tell others about it.”
Thistle’s customers range from those who “understand of what it means to invest in their own health via food,” to those with children who are strapped for time. Other customers include those who have diet-related illnesses and were recommended to Thistle by their primary care provider or nutritionist.
Cheriyan emphasized that the latter group of customers have become Thistle’s most vocal base because of the tangible impact from blood test results or a reduction in medications because of improved nutrition.
“They have the knowledge to realize that they don’t want to sacrifice on this critically important thing, which is [their] own health or the health of the people that [they are] responsible for,” he said.
Transparency helps Thistle build trust
Another layer of Thistle’s strategy is communicating nutrition science to its customers. While consumers are met with an overwhelming range of nutritional information, Cheriyan emphasized that Thistle builds trust among its audience by providing education via its blog, which highlights key peer-reviewed research around the benefits of a plant-based diet, along with a dietitian-penned series titled “Ask a Dietitian.”
“Our customers are relying on us every single week on average to buy six, eight meals from us. … For us, it’s an incredible amount of trust because they’re inviting us to this intimate opportunity, which is mealtime,” Cheriyan emphasized.
Communicating price increases is another avenue to build trust, Cheriyan noted. Thistle raised its price for the first time in four years by 50 cents a meal as a result of a global increase in food cost.
“It’s the first time we did in four years, but we were open and honest about the reasons why. … We have been resisting heavily to do that because we know that’s a real thing for our consumer when they’re seeing price increases everywhere.”