David Turner Hoff, Jr.Co-Founder, Vegetable and Butcher
Bachelor of Business Administration, University of San Diego, 2009
Master of Business Administration, Jones Graduate School of Business (JGSB), Rice University, 2013
About Turner Hoff and Vegetable and Butcher (V+B)
Turner Hoff is a co-founder of V+B, a Washington, D.C.-based food-tech startup that makes healthy eating remarkably simple. V+B promises customers “more life and less worry” with fresh, flavorful, nutritionally–designed meals delivered to customers’ doors. To assure balanced meals that are tasty, beautiful, and nutritious, V+B employs chefs and a dietitian and uses locally sourced seasonal ingredients.
For example, the meals for one Saturday were:
Breakfast (always vegan): Chocolate Avocado Overnight Oats
Lunch: Fennel Tomato Salad with Grilled Lemon Vinaigrette; Butcher’s Box Includes Herb Crusted Chicken Breast
Dinner: Coconut Curry Dal with Roasted Cauliflower; Butcher’s Box Includes Braised Lamb Shoulder
Designated an essential business, V+B has continued to provide meals during the pandemic, including weekly donations to non-profit organizations supporting local families affected by Covid-19. Though the company already followed food safety and handling practices that exceeded local regulations, V+B added measures such as social distancing and face protection for those in the kitchen.
While the V+B team is serious about food, the V+B attitude is often playful. Here’s an excerpt from the V+B website designed and written by the co-founders:
“Our Story – Vegetable meets Butcher. Vegan meets paleo[ish]. Ariane meets Turner (it was actually the other way around, but hey, we’re trying to keep a rhythm here).“
Your career path appeared to be in real estate/real estate investment until June 2015 when you started Vegetable and Butcher. On the V+B website is the statement: “We heard you should start a business that you wish already existed, so we quit our ‘real’ jobs.” Please tell me more about your journey to entrepreneurship.
I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, albeit entirely real estate entrepreneurs. My dad is a contractor by trade and currently works as a construction and development consultant. Both of my grandfathers were architects and my grandpa ran an architecture and development firm. My first jobs, as early as middle school, were all construction related.
When I was young, I wanted to work in construction like my father, but he recommended finance. “You don’t make any money in construction,” he always told me. So, I took his advice and studied finance and real estate in undergrad. Our plan was to eventually go into business together after I gained professional experience in finance. Unfortunately, I graduated in 2009, which was not the greatest time for real estate or finance professionals.
Despite the broader economic circumstances, we managed to spend two years working together, redeveloping and flipping single family homes in Houston. Then I applied to Rice Business, was accepted, and entered in 2011. At the time, I was still seeking a deeper understanding of real estate finance and professional experience in the field, which ultimately led me to The Carlyle Group, as part of the U.S. real estate team. Rice served me very well in that regard. I moved to D.C. and worked for two years.
Shortly after moving to D.C., I met Ariane Valle, my now girlfriend, co-founder, and partner. We’ve always had an interest in health and wellness, and though her perspective is as a vegan/vegetarian for 15 years and mine is as “not vegan,” we share a “food as medicine” philosophy. We’ve each experienced health issues that subsided after paying careful attention to what we eat.
While at Carlyle, I worked 70-80+ hours a week while Ariane had two jobs and school. Our only time together was Sundays, which we spent preparing meals for the following week.
We just burned out. We tried meal kits and other fully prepared meal services, but nothing meshed with us. Everything was in plastic and wrapped in cellophane. The companies weren’t sustainably delivering nourishing, flavorful food and we knew you can have both.
We thought we could do it better and in a way that aligned with our values. That’s Vegetable and Butcher.
Are there other factors that have been part of why you’ve been successful thus far?
Yes, our customer engagement efforts. We learned early on that establishing a sense of community as an e-commerce business is difficult as we don’t have a physical presence is in the market.
Before Covid-19 changed the landscape, our Brand Ambassador program helped us build community. We partnered with companies such as Lululemon and Athleta, and hosted events where our customers and prospective customers went. Then we chose products for that venue. For fitness locations, for example, we brought products designed specifically for pre- and post-workout.
People want to sample our food before enrolling in a weekly program. By meeting our customers where they are, and showcasing our products, we overcame one of the greatest reservations customers experience when considering a weekly subscription online: “Am I even going to like this?”
After identifying a powerful way to engage with existing and prospective customers, we needed a way to scale the program. My stepmom, a partner at a marketing consulting firm, pointed out, “One-off events are what we call ‘random acts of marketing.’ You need to transform the events into experiences that perpetually generate demand.” This key insight led us to optimize our events for email capture, which allowed us to stay connected with prospective customers and engage with them digitally.
The approach worked: more than 70% of our new customers signed up for a recurring subscription rather than a one-week trial and we retained nearly 80% of all new customers.
Beginning in March 2020, we’ve focused more intently on how we can better support our customers and community. Without our in-person events, we can’t engage with existing and prospective customers in the same way. Instead, we’ve been laser focused on maintaining strong, personal relationships with our customers and building feedback loops that ensure our customers are heard. The result has been more than just rewarding—it’s helped shape the direction of our company.
Is there anything I haven’t asked or you haven’t touched on that you would like to add to this?
Yes, our team. Jim Collins’ quote about “getting the right people on the bus” couldn’t be truer for us. Ariane and I absolutely love what we do and the people we work with and wouldn’t stand a chance at achieving the success we’ve achieved thus far without an incredibly talented, sharp, and hard-working team. We truly are a little family.