walking the walls

Phase 2: From Data to Themes

Over the past two weeks our team (Vicky, Gerald and Cristina) have been making sense of the data gathered when we interviewed individuals about their experience and interactions with Lettuce. Lettuce is an Austin-based meal delivery service that strives to create a sustainable, hyper-local ecosystem that grows and distributes food that is fresher, healthier, tastier, and costs less.

What’s our research process?

In our last blog post, we discussed how we recruited and interviewed 17 Lettuce subscribers and staff. Since then, we have transcribed each interview by breaking those transcriptions down into individual quotes (or “utterances”) which each reflect a single sentiment. This resulted in over 1800 utterances that we pinned to the walls of our studio space to begin the process of synthesizing the data. During this process, the quotes were moved around the walls and grouped together using post-its. As we “walked the walls” to make sense of all of the data, we looked for patterns by always asking “why” to discern the behavioral intent underlying the words themselves.

What emergent patterns did we find?

During our research process and through the process of synthesizing this data, we have noticed a number of behavioral patterns and interesting commonalities across some of the individuals that we interviewed. Some of the most salient patterns revolved around the different ways that people value the Lettuce service. Here is just a sampling of those emerging themes:

Theme 1: In an isolated world, people seek a deeper connection to food.

One of the first recurring patterns that came out of our data was the desire for a stronger connection to local food and the food system. Some of the Lettuce subscribers spoke about their desire to support their local community and farms. Some expressed a passion for sustainability and understanding food systems. What was most interesting to our team, however, was the pattern of people expressing a desire to develop a deeper connection to food.

During the interviews, we did an image association exercise in which we presented a number of photos to the participant and asked them to talk about their reactions to any particular images. One participant, Somme, picked out a photo depicting urban farms and said “this one resonates with me.” She imagined a future with farms and orchards interspersed with housing and said “I want to live on that side”.

urban farm exercise

When we drove to visit a new Lettuce subscriber in her home in Cedar Park, Pepper reflected upon she sometimes felt a sense of isolation living in her suburban community. She didn’t feel like she had a strong connection to local food system because she didn’t participate in community supported agriculture (CSA) or anything like that. When asked about her motivations to sign up for Lettuce, she said

“I like the opportunity to do something that supports our local economy and is a deeper connection to where the food comes from.”

This recurring pattern of desiring a deeper connection to food also came up later in our conversation. Pepper’s 18-month-old toddler was finishing his Lettuce Classic meal across the table from us, and she mentioned that she would like to bring her son on a tour to visit one of the Lettuce farms. She said “I think when he gets older, that’d be really fun. I think he’d really like that.” Pepper wants her child to have the opportunity to visit a local farm to begin to instill in him a sense of connection to our local food systems.

Theme 2: Healthy food and time are at odds.

We found an interesting ironic pattern among the interviews. We could sense that accounting for time was a common problem of enjoying healthy locally sourced organic food. One of our interviewee named Keegan declared, “I also like to cook a lot, and I like fresh food, but I really don’t have a lot of time to do it, so anything to shave off time for me.” We found quite a few people describe an earnestness for healthy organic food, but various reasons couldn’t make it happen. We found patterns of people equating Farmers’ markets and local fresh food with better quality and taste and yet subscribers were unable to muster the energy, shift priorities or squeeze it into their schedules.

Despite acknowledging a strong preference for quality food, one person admitted to going to the grocery store instead because of time. Interviewees like Margaret even said,

“There’s a farmers’ market right down the street, and so, I could very easily — if I had the mental energy and the time — go by myself to get things to make myself meals.”

Alicia also expressed a keen interest in shopping at a farmer’s market, “I have this [feeling of], ‘Oh my God, I want to do that today!’ But we’re more night owls, so getting up for a Saturday morning farmers’ market just doesn’t happen.”

These are otherwise simple problems to fix on the surface, but we also see there are more pain points associated with this behavior. The pain points are related to resource management such as time and energy tied to family, work and other cognitive loads)  We found that Lettuce had uniquely positioned themselves to alleviate most issues when a subscriber described Lettuce as a cross between a CSA (community supported agriculture) and a meal kit delivery.

Theme 3: Customers want to “eat sustainable” but need support.

Incorporating a sustainable life takes work. It’s hard to make this change. Customers seek ways to make it easier to live a sustainable lifestyle and they need some added support. When making decisions, people have this inner dialog about criteria of what is sustainable: local, seasonal, zero-waste. Here are a couple specific examples from our interviews that illustrate why it’s hard to make sustainable choices.

  • Dilema 1: Liz wants to by local organic produce but it is more expensive. Either she buy local and goes over budget or the alternative, she buys from an industrial farm in Chile. Both options will make Liz feel guilty .
  • Dilema 2: Liz researches what is in season- eggplant- but then does not know how to cook it and accidentally makes the eggplant too salty.
  • Dilema 3: Liz wants to compost but doesn’t know where to put it. Also is afraid of attracting bugs.

Situations like these make you pause and ask- it it worth the work? Lettuce alleviates these dilemmas. It provides local, seasonal produce and composting while also being affordable, tasty and zero-waste composting.

Theme 4: Customers subscribe to their ideals

Customers are subscribing to their ideals. When they click “subscribe” they are not only getting food, but also the means to achieve their ideals. When participants talked about Lettuce, they valued it for many different reasons. Those reasons are always in the context of how lettuce aligns with their ideals be it sustainability, health, time saving, quality- the list goes on. Here is an example of a participant comparing Lettuce to other meal delivery services. “I don’t know of anyone who’s doing it more sustainably. If I did, I might switch…”. It is interesting that she wouldn’t switch because she is unhappy with the product (i.e. the food) but rather the sustainability component: her ideal lifestyle.

Theme 5: Lettuce alleviates more grievances than it causes.

There was a pattern where customers voiced minor grievances where Lettuce come short. However they were not phased in a way that they were complaining. Instead the grievance would be qualified with saying “but it’s fine”. We found 15+ comments that said “but it’s fine”. For example, one customer suggested that it’d be nice to get more salad dressing with the meal. But it is fine because she just added more olive oil to stretch the dressing. Another said that the recipe card is flimsy and gets dirty easily, “you know that it was printed on a normal office printer”. But it’s fine because she actually finds it endearing, calling it “rogue” and “old school”.

A pile of utterances from multiple different interviews that have the phrase "but it's fine".
A pile of utterances from multiple different interviews that have the phrase “but it’s fine”.

These types of grievances are not complaints. The general sentiment is that customers acknowledge that they are in a partnership with Lettuce and are willing to meet them halfway. A customer will give this business leniency because he or she loved having Lettuce service integrated into their life. They trust the service and want to see them be successful. So long as Lettuce creates more value for subscriber than problems, then subscribers are happy.

What are next steps?

The above mentioned themes revolving around the various ways in which people value the Lettuce service are just a sampling of some of the patterns that have been coming up as we’ve been synthesizing the data. At the beginning of next quarter, we will be focusing on service slices, which is basically the process of making sense of Lettuce’s service design all the way from the farm to the subscriber’s table. We’ll also continue to synthesize our research to develop deeper behavioral insights. Finally, near the end of this semester, we will develop a few opportunity areas for Lettuce to improve their service based on our research synthesis.