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This new food-delivery app sold the Bay Area’s best pastries. But the bakeries had no clue – San Francisco Chronicle

Jane the Bakery owner Amanda Michael recently discovered Popcorn, a new food delivery startup, was selling her business’ baguettes without her permission.
When an order for 40 baguettes came into San Francisco’s Jane the Bakery last Saturday, owner Amanda Michael didn’t think much of it. But later that day, she discovered her baguettes for sale on Popcorn, a new food-delivery app Michael had declined to work with a few weeks before.
Michael hadn’t given Popcorn permission to sell anything from Jane the Bakery. Neither had the owners of Tartine, Arsicault Bakery, B. Patisserie, Midnite Bagel or Third Culture Bakery, some of the most prominent names among Bay Area bakeries, but whose products were all at some point listed on Popcorn’s app.
Most of these listings were taken down after The Chronicle began reporting this story. In some cases, bakery owners were unaware their pastries were being sold through Popcorn until The Chronicle contacted them.
“It’s more damaging to us than anything else. Someone either gets a stale loaf of bread or it looks like we weren’t able to fulfill the order,” Michael said. “The middleman never looks bad.”
Several local businesses do work with Popcorn directly and said they have had positive experiences so far, including Reem’s and Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco and Acme Bread Co. in Berkeley. But for those who found their products being sold without their permission, the tactic was both shocking and upsetting, and had some criticizing the potentially predatory nature of the fast-growing world of food-delivery startups.
The practice is illegal in California. A 2020 state law requires delivery companies to have an agreement in place with a food business before they can deliver their products to customers. The Fair Food Delivery Act is only enforceable through private legal action.
In an emailed statement, a Popcorn spokesperson acknowledged the company has been purchasing through retail from businesses it doesn’t have formal partnerships with “to test customer appetite.” The company said it is “offering these products as limited time specials to spark excitement in Popcorn and these great homegrown products!”
But that may also be a violation of federal trademark law, which prohibits companies from using another business’ name or logo if it causes customer confusion, said Steven Tindall of Gibbs Law Group in Oakland, an attorney representing restaurants in a class-action lawsuit against Grubhub.
“If they are using the bakery or restaurant’s names without their permission and they’re implying a relationship between them, that would seem to be confusing to consumers,” Tindall said.
Jane the Bakery owner Amanda Michael displays a recent screenshot of the Popcorn app selling her baguettes without her permission.
Delivery companies misleading owners and customers is far from a new issue. Two restaurants filed the Grubhub class-action lawsuit in 2020 for allegedly listing their and other businesses on its platform without their permission. San Francisco chef Pim Techamuanvivit drew attention to the practice before the pandemic after Grubhub offered delivery from her acclaimed Thai restaurant, Kin Khao, without her consent. In-N-Out Burger sued DoorDash in 2015 for delivering its food without the burger chain’s approval. Several bakery owners who recently found their products on Popcorn said they have had similar issues with Postmates, DoorDash and other third-party delivery companies in the past.
Competition in the food-delivery world is fierce. While Grubhub started by partnering with restaurants, the company acknowledged in 2019 that it added thousands of “non-partner restaurants” without prior agreements to regain market share.
But for many small-business owners, there’s a tension between the demands of same-day delivery and quality control. While Bay Area outfits such as Jane the Bakery and Arsicault work with some of Popcorn’s competitors, they’re picky about what they offer for delivery. They choose products with longer shelf lives, such as granola or shortbread cookies, rather than the pastries that they want customers to eat fresh on-site. Others worry that too much of an emphasis on delivery will ultimately detract from the in-person customer experience.
“I’ve been a little cautious about signing on to new platforms,” said Third Culture Bakery co-owner Wenter Shyu. “To put it plainly, I don’t want to be a guinea pig for someone’s new, developing platform.”
Baguettes from Jane the Bakery, which were recently listed on Popcorn’s app for delivery without owner Amanda Michael’s consent.
Popcorn is part of a new wave of Bay Area delivery companies that boomed during the pandemic, often combining options of food from restaurants and bakeries alongside groceries. These companies position themselves as local alternatives to national delivery giants like DoorDash, and competitors like Pastel and Locale have built their business models on working with the Bay Area’s top artisan food producers.
Popcorn’s angle is on-demand groceries “delivered in minutes,” promised 24 hours a day, seven days a week with no fees or minimums. Fast, on-demand delivery has already proven challenging to pull off: Zero Grocery, a popular Bay Area zero-waste grocery-delivery service, suddenly shut down in March, just one month after announcing expansion plans and millions of dollars in funding.
Popcorn declined to make its co-founders, Ece Cokar and Onur Kardeşler, available for interviews. They launched Popcorn in November and, according to numerous job postings on LinkedIn, are hiring to grow the San Francisco company amid heated competition.
“With our ten-minute grocery deliveries, we are disrupting the grocery space, one of the biggest markets still in the hands of traditional players,” reads a Popcorn job description.
Arsicault owner Armando Lacayo said he was shocked to find a misleading listing for his bakery on Popcorn’s app this week. Instead of an image of Arsicault’s coveted almond croissant, there was what appeared to be a stock photo of such a pastry. The same photo was used on Popcorn for B. Patisserie, with the description: “A flaky, almond croissant from a local favorite: B Patisserie!” Both listings have since been removed.
“It sounds to me like ‘fake it until you make it,’” Lacayo said after seeing the photo.
Listings on the Popcorn app for San Francisco bakeries Arsicault and B. Patisserie, whose owners were unaware their pastries were posted there.
Popcorn’s products range from pastrami from New York’s famed Katz’s Delicatessen and Krispy Kreme glazed donuts to rapid COVID tests and diapers stored at warehouses in San Francisco and Mountain View. Items are delivered throughout the Bay Area via colorful vans plastered with the slogan “Faster than 911.” The service’s questionable sourcing practice extends beyond Bay Area bakeries: Representatives for Katz’s and Momofuku, chef David Chang’s company, both said they don’t work with Popcorn, though their products have been listed on the app.
In many cases, Popcorn appears to be ordering from bakeries as a customer would, then offering those products at retail or marked-up prices without the businesses’ knowledge. Tartine discovered its baked goods, including its famed country loaf and morning bun, on the app in the last few days. Kendal Barrett, Tartine’s marketing manager, said they later realized Popcorn must have purchased items through the bakery’s online ordering system.
Last month, Nick Beitcher of San Francisco’s Midnite Bagel said he received a large order from a company he had never heard of: Popcorn. The company said the 50 sourdough bagels were for its office staff, he said.
Soon after, Beitcher received a message from a customer who had loved his sourdough bagels, having tried them through Popcorn. He downloaded the app and found his bagels for sale.
Beitcher emailed Popcorn to ask how they had procured the bagels. The company had contacted him previously in late February about a partnership, he realized. When he didn’t respond, the company “decided to do a quick test to see what the response would be if we offered your bagels,” an employee wrote in an email to Beitcher. “We purchased them at retail and because we had already been in contact with you regarding wholesale, we didn’t think it would be a problem for us to do a quick test. It was a one time offer (for a few hours) and was really popular!”
Croissants from San Francisco’s Arsicault Bakery, one of several local bakeries whose products were listed on Popcorn without the owners’ permission.
When Amanda Michael asked Popcorn to remove Jane the Bakery’s baguette listing, she said she was told the loaves had been ordered for a company picnic, and that the post on the app was a technical glitch. It was immediately taken down, she said.
In an email to The Chronicle on Wednesday, Popcorn listed Midnite Bagel as one of the Bay Area businesses it has a formal wholesale relationship with. Beitcher said this is inaccurate.
Beitcher said he’s always grateful for more business, but not when his products are being distributed without his approval.
“It doesn’t feel great to be deceived,” he said.
Ironically, Beitcher had been interested in working with Popcorn. As a newer business, he’s constantly looking to increase Midnite’s visibility. Azikiwee Anderson of Rize Up Sourdough, who started selling bread on Popcorn three weeks ago, was similarly drawn in by the sales pitch of a fleet of delivery vans that can spread throughout the Bay Area “like a spiderweb,” he said.
Companies like Popcorn are serving customers who have come to expect fast, ultra-convenient food delivery, said Veena Dubal, a UC Hastings College of the Law professor who studies the intersection of law and technology.
“The consumer experience and demands that these types of companies have cultivated, which didn’t exist before, has impacted not only the way that we get things but the way we expect to get things,” Dubal said.
Elena Kadvany is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: elena.kadvany@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @ekadvany
Elena Kadvany joined The San Francisco Chronicle as a food reporter in 2021. Previously, she was a staff writer at the Palo Alto Weekly and its sister publications, where she covered restaurants and education and also founded the Peninsula Foodist restaurant column and newsletter.

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