"Phone to Fork"? "Gourmet To Go"? The food 2.0 space needs a real name

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on May 13, 2014

From The News Desk

“What’s in a name?” Juliet asked Romeo. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Terrible advice for any nascent startup sector. A blooming rose of an industry needs a name to define it, otherwise it’s an amorphous blob that’s difficult for consumers or potential customers to wrap their heads around. What would SaaS. and cloud services be without fuzzy words like “cloud” and “SaaS” to define them?

One of the more exciting startup sectors to develop in the last year is in dire need of its own naming moment. It’s the food startup sector that includes the likes of Munchery, SpoonRocket, Sprig. All three source ingredients, hire chefs and prep cooks, develop recipes, make meals, and deliver them to customers.

They’re a bit like “restaurants in the cloud” because they don’t have brick and mortar storefronts, instead opting for a centralized kitchen focused on efficiently producing loads of these meals.

Until now, I’ve been awkwardly calling this "the food preparation and delivery startup space." But that’s an absolute shitshow of a name. My stories are double the length just because I have to huff out that name every time I refer to the young sector. Commenters wind up haranguing me for not including the likes of Blue Apron or Plated — which have entirely different business models based on shipping boxes of ingredients and recipes out once a week. Friends tell me they’re intrigued by the space but totally baffled about “where to begin.”

Without a name, it’s hard for consumers to wrap their heads around what a set of companies does if their business model and operations are new and innovative. A name for the industry would help brand it, formalize it, and make it easier for consumers to understand. For UberX and Lyft, it’s ridesharing. For Airbnb, its “apartment sharing.”  Fitbit, Up, and smartwatches are "wearables." 

I’ve been waiting for a good to appear for the likes of Munchery, Sprig, and Spoonrocket, especially after the trio managed to raise more than $60 million in venture, but alas no luck. So I reached out to the founders of each — and the newly defunct Chefler — to get their thoughts on what the space should be called.

There was an outpouring of ideas, without much overlap.

Virtual restaurants.

Tech and Taste.

Phone to Fork.

Prepared Meal Startups.

Gourmet to Go.

Meal concierge startups.

On-demand meals.

The one thing everyone could agree on was the need for a name. “I’m honestly sick of being lumped in with GrubHub and other restaurant delivery startups. GrubHub = food-tech startups 1.0. The current wave is 2.0.,” Omar Restom, founder of Chefler, said. “I think the sourcing of the food is as important as distribution, so whatever name describes our space has to encompass that,” Conrad Chu, co-founder of Munchery said.

Although none of the names suggested leaped out to me as being the perfect moniker, on-demand meal startups seems the safest bet. While some in the space — like Munchery — aren’t strictly “on-demand” because customers have to place orders a few hours in advance, they’re still on-demand in the way customers understand. You place an order quickly with payment information already saved to your account, frequently via mobile, and some period of time later the thing you want arrives.

By calling the space “on-demand meals,” it helps consumers immediately visualize what these companies do. They don’t ship you ingredients. They don’t connect you to take out restaurants. They’re bring you meals on-demand, much like Uber brought you transportation on-demand. It fits into the larger on-demand economy, which turns your smartphone into a magic wand of sorts, meant to bring you immediate accommodation (HotelTonight), massages or blowouts (Zeel and StyleBee), groceries (Instacart) or flowers (BloomThat) in as few clicks as possible.

There may not be consensus around this, but hopefully this post at least opens up the dialogue around what to call the likes of SpoonRocket, Munchery, and Sprig. Until a better name reveals itself, I’m going to call y’all the on-demand meal space.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]