Sunday, February 8, 2015

Where's the low-cost Munchery?

A friend just invited me to try Munchery: It's a delivery-only service in which noted chefs prepare a limited and healthful menu each day, and you can get stuff delivered within a roughly 1-hour window of uncertainty if you're in their delivery area. Your credit card is on file, so payment is automatic when you order. It's convenient when you have an irregular work schedule, and I'll almost certainly make healthier choices than if I default to ordering pizza or Chinese food when I get home late and too tired to cook. I'm excited to try it out.

But it is also symptomatic of the too-many startups chasing the same customer demographic. Wouldn't it be great if there was a Munchery for people who can't afford to spend $12 on dinner? (Not that $12 is unreasonable for delivery of what they offer, but the reality is most people can't afford to spend that much on dinner more than once in a while, and many cannot afford it ever, or barely ever.)

There's been a fair amount of controversy over the connection among income level, lack of access to healthy food (living in so-called "food deserts"), and obesity/metabolic syndrome. But whether the problem is people making bad choices because they have no other choices, because they're underinformed, or because they lack the time or skill to do their own preparation, wouldn't it be great if there was an economically viable model similar to Munchery but at a different price point? Maybe the entrees wouldn't be prepared by up-and-coming star chefs; maybe the number of daily selections would be more limited; maybe the delivery window would be wider; but the meals would consist of sane-sized portions of minimally-processed ingredients prepared in a way that goes easy on sodium, added sugar, and fat. The vegetables would not necessarily need to be organically raised, and the cows would not necessarily have to be range-fed and massaged, but I'm sure there is room for improvement over what many families eat now. I can't help but wonder if a startup could find a way to do this at a price point that is reasonable and competitive, despite the federal government's insistence on "fighting obesity" on the one hand while subsidizing the broken agri-factory system that makes fast food possible on the other hand. You could even imagine that such an outfit is set up to redeem through nutrition-benefits programs (CalFresh, Food Stamps, and so on).

Has anyone done the economics? It seems there'd be a large market, and you'd be doing society a good turn. Berkeley has startup competitions every year; I'm waiting for a round of startups like the one above, that target the unexotic underclass.

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