Let's start with some word-association. I'll say "Nashville specialty food" and you say ...
Did you say Goo Goo Cluster? Of course you did, because for more than a century, the chocolate-coated, peanut-topped marshmallow-and-caramel disk has been virtually synonymous with local product in Music City. You probably stuffed them in bridal party welcome baskets and smuggled them onto airplanes. For variety, maybe you packaged them with King Leo peppermints and washed them down with Tennessee whiskey.
But the current appetite for all things Nashville can't be satisfied with sweets and sour mash alone. Everyone wants a taste — culinary and otherwise. Batch wants to oblige.
A joint venture of graphic designer Rob Williams (a former Scene art director) and Cool People Care co-founders Stephen Moseley and Sam Davidson, Batch's subscription service provides a monthly sampling of artisanal products that showcases the culture and creativity of a city, as reflected in a specific theme. For example, the Happy Hour batch included locally sourced cocktail mixers from Eli Mason, Walker Feed Co. and White's Elixirs. The so-called Smell Like a Man batch featured man-friendly products from Beardition, Music City Suds and Otter Creek. The Rise & Shine batch packaged morning fare from Garage Coffee Company, My Friend Who Loves to Cook, Haulin' Oats and TruBee Honey.
Batch shipped its first Nashville-flavored package in September 2013 and launched a Memphis version in March. Along the way, the company has custom designed batches for holiday gifts and corporate favors. Hyatt Place provides Batch Nashville to their VIP hotel guests. (Yes, Batch can incorporate the iconic Goo Goo Cluster into your custom-ordered basket.)
This month, Batch will also launch a six-month Tour of the South showcasing products from Nashville, Charleston, Atlanta, New Orleans, Birmingham and Austin. While no two months will be exactly alike, there is a loose formula for each $40 installment of the tour. Broadly speaking, Batch showcases products that are local, small-batch and handcrafted. For each stop along the tour, the team looks for the quintessential taste of a city. The Nashville leg, which ships April 8, might include a hot chicken spice blend from The Doug Jeffords Company in Franklin. For an instantly edible taste of Nashville, expect cookies from Dozen Bakery. When the Charleston batch drops in May, the spice element will most likely lend itself to a shrimp-and-grits recipe. Odds are strong that Atlanta will contain peaches in some form or another.
Already, some 40 percent of Batch packages ship outside Tennessee, and the number is expected to double with the launch of the Tour of the South. That's meaningful exposure for small business owners who might not otherwise have the manpower or means to market beyond their hometown. Dozen Bakery owner Claire Meneely says Batch has connected her with a whole new audience, allowing her to focus on baking while Williams, Davis and Moseley wrangle branding and logistics.
Entrepreneurs are catching on to the potential of Batch as a distribution channel. One Wednesday a month, the Batch team hosts a pitch session for local producers. Shelves in the lobby of the distribution center display products that have come to Williams, Moseley and Davis for consideration. Soaps, artwork, tea towels, candy, coffee, popcorn, pancake mix, jams and jellies are some examples of the local bounty that might make its way into their rustic but refined brown cardboard care packages. Some of those products might even find their way into Batch's own private-labeled line of Revelry brand products, coming soon.
Anyone who has ever tried to dream up a list of local treats for wedding favors or corporate gift baskets will likely be impressed by the diversity of Middle Tennessee products on display. It's enough to make you wonder if that many local consumer packaged goods have always been available or if Batch is catching a new wave of hometown entrepreneurship. Williams and Davis suspect the latter is the case. Chances are Batch Nashville would not have been possible five years ago, they say. They attribute the surge in local products to several factors. First, the economic downturn forced many people to reconsider their careers, and many of them turned toward creative cottage industries. Second, the city is hot right now. Put those vectors together and you've got customers clamoring for a taste of Nashville, and producers ready to provide it.
This week subscribers across the country will open their Country Roads-themed April Batch of Nashville-sourced goods to find a pouch of Auntie T's granola, Tennessee Gourmet peach jam, goat's milk soap from Little Seed Farm in Lebanon, a copy of Home & Hill quarterly magazine produced in Cookeville, and a couple of Grab the Gold protein bars from Colt's Chocolates.
If you're thinking that Colt's Chocolates are no longer technically "handcrafted" in the mechanized factory in the Gulch, that's true. But Williams points to another quality of the ideal Batch product: It is still largely undiscovered.
"We promise some discovery in a Batch," Williams says.
So while marquee-brand Goo Goos may be too popular to appear in a monthly subscription, a well-curated Batch just might contain the next big taste sensation to come out of Nashville.