In 2012, Ben McKean sold his restaurant technology company, Savoured, to Groupon.
Savoured let customers get discounts on meals at high-end restaurants by going on off nights, or get a last-minute table on the weekend for a premium.
After the acquisition, McKean says he realised that Savoured provided “a great outcome but it lacked the real deep emotional customer response.”
There was one particular conversation he had that made him realise the importance of food as an emotional opportunity.
“I was sitting down with this woman, she must have been in her 80s,” he says. “She was running a restaurant in the West Village. She was teary eyed, telling me how Savoured had kept her restaurant in business, and how her restaurant was the last passion of her life.”
McKean was then committed to finding “a product that has that emotional reaction deep in the essence of the product. I don’t think you can get that more than you can in food,” he says.
For the past year, McKean has been working on his new food company, Hungryroot. Along with his cofounders — one of whom competed on Top Chef Masters a couple years ago — McKean wants to provide prepared, healthy, delicious meals to customers.
And on Tuesday, Hungryroot announced it’s raised $US2 million in funding from Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Crosslink Capital, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, and KarpReilly to make that happen.
When you order from Hungryroot, you get a packaged meal the next day that consists of 70 to 80% vegetables and 20% protein. The base ingredient is vegetable noodles — made from sweet potatoes, radishes, beets, zucchinis, and more — paired with a creative sauce, and served with an optional protein side.
Hungryroot is not serving “your standard chicken and broccoli or salmon and teriyaki,” McKean says. “We really feel like there’s this new food category emerging, and vegetable noodles is part of this larger category of meals.” Some of the meals Hungryroot serves include beet noodles with savoury thai sesame sauce and rutabaga noodles with roasted mushroom pistou.
The company launched last month, and sold 10,000 meals out of its Long Island City, Queens, offices in April, where it has 25 employees handling production. Selling 10,000 meals was “certainly above our expectations and our investor expectations,” McKean says. Right now, Hungryroot ships its meals only to customers east of the Mississippi.
But McKean is looking to expand to the west coast later this year, which would allow Hungryroot to ship its meals nationally. He’s also looking to increase the number of offerings Hungryroot has available, including launching into new food categories, like veggie burgers.
Instead of competing with companies like Blue Apron or Seamless, which respectively tackle the grocery and restaurant delivery markets, McKean says he’s more interested in taking on the packaged food segment — the frozen meals you see in your grocery store.
Using a technology called “modified atmosphere packaging,” Hungryroot’s meals have a shelf life of 14 days. “We’re able to offer a fresh option in a category that’s essentially defined by frozen options sold in grocery stores,” he says.
McKean is most excited about turning vegetables from an obligation to something people love to eat. “If you’re able to successfully change the perception of vegetables from something you should eat into something you really look forward to eating, it’s such an emotional response,” he says. “We’re very excited to see that happening.”