New delivery option Fresh Dish gives a man a fish, and teaches him how to cook it

By Michael Carney , written on November 27, 2012

From The News Desk

We Americans are busy. We also love excuses. Some of the best excuses offered tend to be those for why we can’t eat well. “I don’t have time.” “It’s too expensive.” “I don’t know what to make.” “I’m a bad cook.” The list goes on, and on.

One new Los Angeles startup is taking on this nearly universal problem with a fresh take on food delivery. Fresh Dish launches today (in the Southwest region of CA, AZ, and NV) with the promise that it’s possible for anyone to eat a healthy and delicious meal made themselves in under 30 minutes and for as little as $8 per person.

First let’s get out of the way the things Fresh Dish is not. It’s not a meal delivery service. Popup Pantry and its ilk have that fairly well covered, yet for the cost conscious, those are more of a luxury than an everyday solution. Fresh Dish is also not a grocery delivery service. Those exist in spades too, like Austin’s Greeling, but for the time-starved, these options fall short in hacking the meal planning and cooking process.

Enter Fresh Dish on its white horse looking to save home cooked dinners from the evils of the 21st century. The startup incubated in Santa Monica technology studio Science Inc. delivers fresh dinner kits, consisting of pre-prepped ingredients, measured and individually packaged along with a straightforward recipe executable in under 30 minutes. This includes meats, vegetables, seasonings, condiments, and any other ingredient necessary to fully execute a recipe. The goal is to shortcut meal planning, grocery shopping, food preparation, and waste. At its reasonable price point, the company seems to do an admirable job with each.

“We’re solving the ‘Tuesday through Thursday problem,’” says Fresh Dish founder and CEO Steve Goldstein, referring to the meal-planning challenge facing working families and those with young children.

The startup weaves a compelling narrative around the challenge facing home cooking and the sanctity of family dinners in America. It may come across as marketing speak – the company plans to make money along the way, after all – but the statistics frame the opportunity quite convincingly.

“Americans spend an average of over 2.5 hours planning, shopping for, and preparing one-home cooked meal,” says Science founder Mike Jones. “They also spend an eye-popping $478 billion annually on groceries, and throw out approximately 40 percent of the food they buy.” Goldstein adds to this tragic tale, saying, “The number of families having dinner together has declined over 60 percent, and the studies that show that children who don’t have regular family dinners do worse in school and are more likely to get involved in drugs and alcohol.”

Fresh Dish will offer four different chef-inspired meals each week, initially, a number it plans to increase to eight in the near future. Recent options listed on its site include: “Pan Seared Chicken Sausage & Pears with Mustard, Brown Rice, and Warm Brussels Sprout Salad;” “Flank Steak Salad with Chimichurri Dressing & Quinoa;” “Shrimp Fajitas;” “Thai Green Curry with Chicken, Mixed Vegetables, and Rice;” and “Porterhouse Steak with Pan Seared Cherry Tomatoes & Buttered Brown Rice.”

Customers simply choose the meals they want and the desired number of servings and they are delivered weekly. Those feeling more adventurous can sign up for “Chef’s Choice” and receive the top two meals chosen by the company for that week. The dishes are generally designed to be kid friendly, although Goldstein admits that the pickiest young (or old) eaters may disagree. The CEO is considering adding a second category of meal aimed at pleasing kids, while not overburdening the prep required by parents.

Science brings a wealth of applicable experience from its previous direct-to-consumer offerings, including Dollar Shave Club, Wittlebee, MeUndies, and more recently Urban Remedy. In addition to its early funding from the technology studio, Fresh Dish has raised a $500,000 seed financing round from Battery Ventures.

Food delivery is not an easy problem to solve profitably. Fulfillment and delivery are both expensive and cumbersome, while ensuring reliable and affordable access to quality ingredients can be a moving target. Fresh Dish will utilize “just in time” fulfillment to minimize its inventory risk, receiving delivery of all ingredients from its suppliers on Saturday and packaging and shipping on Mondays. All ingredients are sourced locally, to the extent possible, and are of higher quality than those used a chain family restaurants, according to the founder. Currently, the company outsources packaging, but eventually this function will likely have to come inhouse as the company reaches scale and pushes toward driving efficiencies.

One advantage in Fresh Dish’s direct-to-consumer ecommerce model is the increasing familiarity with subscription models. While fresh meal kits may be a new product category, the idea that convenience and savings can be delivered to your doorstep is not a new one. Fresh Dish is exploring a variety of incentivization options currently, but rest assured it will look for ways to make it worth your while to buy in bulk and commit longer term.

“At the end of the day, it’s about freeing up busy people so that they can sit around the kitchen table and enjoy a great home-cooked meal with their family,” says Jones.