Thoughts on today’s food innovation

In 1996, Michel Lescanne, a food-processing engineer, came up with Plumpy’nut, an ingenious peanut-based paste that was meant to treat severe malnutrition. It’s an innovation in food tech and engineering that’s helped countless lives and changed the way nutrition is approached in third world countries.

It was one of the first products of food engineering that I had ever heard of growing up. Since then, I’ve heard of a couple of other inventions including ideas from Aseptia, an up-and-coming food science company that’s already patented tech that “enables the production of shelf-stable fresh food products without using preservation or refrigeration.”

These days, instead of actual food engineering, I’ve been seeing a lot of food innovation — startups revolving around food, which range from “disrupting” takeout or improving catered food. The rise of the foodie culture, where people live, breathe and “document” (aka Instagram) food, has become very prominent in recent years, and it’s becoming apparent that more people are willing to experiment with their tastebuds.

But unless you get paid to eat for a living, not all of us are able to eat great food all of the time, especially if you’re getting bogged down by school or work. A lot of these startups acknowledge this issue because they’ve experienced it themselves, be it in the role of a CEO or even as an extremely busy college student.

If you can’t wait for your food, there are startups that specialize in same-day deliveries. Munchery, for example, is a food startup where meals are prepared by local chefs and delivered the same night. For about $11 to $13, you can get a hearty dinner, and add sides, desserts or drinks if you’d like. But if you’re in the mood for something with a homemade touch, there’s Eatro, which lets you choose which homecooked meals you want, then lets you pick it up from his or her house. If you aren’t too picky, SpoonRocket claims to serve “the most convenient meal ever,” with super speedy delivery and meals that are fresh and healthy. Not to mention, the prices are a bit cheaper at $8 for some sweet potato lasagna or roasted pork chop.

What if you’ve just moved from New York to Wisconsin and suddenly find yourself craving Momofuku Milk Bar’s amazing pies? No, you don’t have to fly back to The Big Apple just for a taste of that famous Crack Pie. If you’re ok with a little waiting and are willing to splurge a bit, you can order from Goldbely, a food startup that is dedicated to taking the very best foods from cities across the nation and making them available for delivery.

There's a reason why they call it Crack Pie... | Photo courtesy of The Huffington Post
There’s a reason why they call it Crack Pie… | Photo courtesy of The Huffington Post

There are also many, many food subscription box services out there, including Skoshbox, a monthly package of Japanese candies and snacks, and even Taster’s Club, for those who are very into bourbon, a group of people who contribute to, what Fortune Magazine calls “the billion-dollar bourbon boom.”

The more popular of these monthly subscription services are Love With Food and Plated. The former, for only $10 a month, sends organic snacks to your door and, for every box that you receive, a meal is donated to a child in the U.S. The latter service sends you recipes along with the ingredients to make them, if you want to try your hand at cooking something yourself.

For healthier options that won’t require you to lift a finger, you can order from Zesty, which delivers from restaurants dedicated to serving low-carb, gluten-free or even paleo dishes, or you can get your favorite smoothie or some organic vegetables from grocery delivery services like Good Eggs, Instacart, or AmazonFresh, Amazon’s very own delivery service.

It’s exciting to see so many companies dedicated to making food even more accessible, more convenient and, of course, more delicious. They’re solving problems like nostalgia-driven cravings and healthy eating, and packaging them in ways that make life a little easier. I’ve tried my share of subscription boxes, and I will say that it’s pretty fun to get a package every month with all sorts of goodies that you don’t expect. Not to mention, most, if not all, of these startups offer promo codes for first time users, which shows that they’re willing to shave off some of their price margin to show that A) they’re worth your time and money and B) to grab the attention of curious, open-minded food lovers.

As great as these startups sound, unfortunately, their services are not always widely-available. For instance, SpoonRocket is only available in the East Bay and San Francisco, Eatro is primarily based in London and Munchery is, again, Bay Area-centric.

And if you haven’t guessed already, these startups are catering a very specific, upper-middle class to upper class demographic, a target audience that doesn’t need to worry about very much aside from what to wear and what to eat. The prices for these dishes and products, including sometimes hefty shipping costs, are not very affordable for the average middle class person.

Nevertheless, these are creative ideas that are all executed very well. We’ll always need food to survive and, even though we might not always need to have our pies shipped from the east coast, changing up our meals every once in a while adds some spice (no pun intended) to our lives. Though it may be cost-effective to live day-to-day on oatmeal, it doesn’t bring us a whole lot of joy (unless you really freakin’ love oatmeal). Tasting a friend’s brother’s wife’s “world-famous” tuna casserole, sharing a meal with a stranger or trying an Ethiopian meal of Gomen Kitfo for the first time connects us on different levels and brings us a little closer.

Whether you find yourself with the same expression of bliss as the person sitting next to you in a restaurant or you’ve brought your girlfriend over for dinner to try your mom’s homemade lasagna, be it for sustenance, entertainment, love or friendships, food is certainly here to stay.

Maybe only sometimes.
Maybe only sometimes.

Update: Just got an invite to City Lunch Club, a catered lunch service which is only available in New York at the moment. If you want to give it try, click here.

Update 2: Found out about a really cool startup called Gobble that designs “dinner kits,” where ingredients are already cut… all you have to do is prepare the meals (which doesn’t usually take more than 10 minutes).

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