Shall we call this wave of food-related startups Food 2.0? The first wave — Yelp, Foursquare, Foodspotting, etc. — focused around restaurants, dining out and social media connections. The latest wave that’s blowing up the startup world (judging by new launches and VC dollars) revolves around actual food. The meal and grocery delivery category has blown up in startup-land the last year. See Blue Apron, Plated, FreshDish, Chefday, Hellofresh, Greenling. Pop-up Pantry already flamed out, unable to make the cost structure work. Hot on the heels of that category are apps related to local farms and farmers markets, like GoodEgg, FarmersWeb and HarvestGeek.
Add another one to the mix today: Platejoy, out of Boston. Like its predecessors, Platejoy sends groceries with corresponding recipes to subscribers each week.
The difference is that Platejoy never touches the food. Blue Apron, Plated and its peers not only plan the meals for subscribers, they gather the ingredients, divide them into boxes, and ship them off as individual meal packets. Platejoy leaves that to the grocery stores. That means Platejoy orders will sometimes come with more than needed, or the meals will have to be eaten twice in one week. The goal is still to reduce leftovers. But Platejoy avoids the packaging issue of pouring thousands of tiny little tablespoon-sized bottles of rice wine vinegar.
For items like rice wine vinegar, or spices or other condiments, Platejoy will assume you already have them. As you are checking out, the site asks if you’d like to buy, say, a bottle of cinnamon required for your oatmeal. Platejoy isn’t trying to make money on these items, founder Christina Bognet explains. “It’s part of our surplus reduction algorithm,” she says.
“Plated and Blue Apron will send you an individual spice in a small container. Our thinking is that with something like cinnamon, there’s no reason for a consumer to not have the full amount of cinnamon in their kitchen.” Then, when subscribers return, they’ll already have these kitchen basics, she says. “It makes more sense logically to have some staple items in your kitchen.”
The company is working with Safeway, Whole Foods and Peapod to source and deliver the groceries. This is a leaner business strategy than that of its peers — Platejoy doesn’t need to handle any inventory and merely acts as a meal-planning guide for the grocery stores. Grocers already have delivery services in place. This is just a appear on their doorstep. Platejoy doesn’t disclose the revenue breakdown between itself and the grocer partners.
Beyond the logistics, Platejoy differentiates by offering breakfast, lunch and snack options, which means order values are typically higher. (I subscribe to three two-person Blue Apron meals a week, for example, which costs $60. Platejoy’s minimum order is $79.)
But perhaps Platjoy’s biggest differentiator is its focus on personalization. Upon joining, you take a long survey about your eating habits. Where services like Blue Apron and its peers only differentiate between vegetarian and meat, Platjoy has options like gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo, red meat, kosher, etc. You’re then given a menu of meal options and choose the ones you want to receive.
The company was previously operating under the generic name of Healthy Delivery. Bognet says she decided to change the name to something that reflected the feelings of joy her early customers said they experienced upon receiving the meal packs.
The company has shipped hundreds of orders in closed beta thus far, she says. Today is Platejoy’s public launch, starting in Boston and San Francisco.
When Michael Carney and I recently reviewed two meal delivery services, we asked “Is this the future of groceries?” and concluded that no, it was not. Getting a few dinners in the mail doesn’t replace stocking up on milk and eggs at Trader Joe’s each week. But Platejoy gets closer to that by delivering a full suite of meal options including snacks, while stocking you up on kitchen essentials and condiments.
Bognet admits she had that exact premise in mind when she designed the company. “I thought about the Jetsons and what this process would be like in the future, and I realized there was no way people would be wandering through grocery stores trying to buy ingredients.”