Although today's food scene caters much more to those with dietary restrictions, it is still not easy to dine out for guests on a Paleo, vegan, or gluten-free diet.
Not to mention, finding the time to fit a meal into a consumer's busy schedule can also be difficult. Guests don't always have time to make lunch or venture out to a restaurant to pick it up. That's why virtual restaurants, online ordering and third-party delivery services are on the rise.
But what if there was a service that would deliver an organic, paleo, gluten-free freshly cooked meal in 40 minutes?
Mealmade is a company in San Francisco doing just that. This virtual restaurant has made a name for itself by delivering healthy, made-to-order meals, but is soon opening a brick-and-mortar concept.
We decided to sit down with the founder of Mealmade, Jeff Nobbs, to learn how this on-demand company is appealing to today's consumer and how it’s thriving in this competitive market.
What is so appealing to consumers about Mealmade?
Nobbs: There are two things here. Number one is the type of food that we offer and that's appealing to people on special diets. So, whether you're on a Paleo, gluten-free, low carb, Whole30, vegan, vegetarian diet or have an autoimmune condition or an autoimmune protocol– the focus of our meals are for customers that are pretty much ignored by other restaurant and food delivery apps.
If you're someone that eats, let's say Paleo, eating out is a nightmare. If you have an autoimmune condition or are on an autoimmune protocol diet, eating out is even more of a nightmare. With Mealmade, every meal is made without dairy, gluten, or grains. We cook with healthy fat and we don't use any refined sugar. We try to hit the center of the Venn diagram where a lot of the different diets overlap. A lot of our customers eat Mealmade not only because they love it, but also because it's sort of the only option for delivery.
We also consider ourselves a restaurant that focuses on delivery. Unlike other delivery apps that deliver from an assortment of restaurants or companies that make their own food and deliver it, all of our meals are made to order like at a restaurant but they're made specifically for delivery. If you used to a GrubHub, Seamless, Eat24, Postmates or UberEats, they're just picking up food from restaurants that are mainly making their food for people that are dining in and delivery is more of an after-thought. But, all of our food is made to order like a restaurant and then it's also designed to be eaten 30 minutes later.
Why the focus on gluten-free?
Nobbs: A lot of it is for selfish reasons. When I moved to San Francisco, I had a pretty strict diet. This diet that I found worked for me, but there is just no way to get that food unless I cook it myself. I thought that was ridiculous. So, I hired a chef, rented out a little kitchen space and started offering some meals that I thought were missing in San Francisco area and it caught on. Other people liked that type of food and so we kept hiring and growing. It's not only the way I eat, but it's also I think one of the hardest ways to eat when you go out.
What makes Mealmade different from its competitors?
Nobbs: When you look at us versus restaurants, I think the main difference is that we're much more affordable than a restaurant. If you went to a nice restaurant, a lot of our meals would be like $40. Instead, they're $13 or $14 at Mealmade. Compared to other food delivery apps, we cook it like a restaurant and it's made to order.
If you look at other virtual restaurant companies, they cook their food way ahead of time and re-heat it or just deliver it cold. It has sort of like an airline food kind of feeling.
How do you keep food costs down to offer that lower price point?
Nobbs: A big part of it is that we don't have expensive prime real estate rent like most restaurants do. We also have less kitchen staff. For example, we don't have dishwashers who have to wash plates. So, there's a lot of cost savings when not running a traditional restaurant.
There's also a higher perceived value and higher actual value in the ingredients we use. Because we're using free-range chicken and 100% grass-fed beef, customers expect tp pay a premium. But we are able to keep costs down by not having all of the major expenses that most traditional restaurants do.
How do you go about creating the menu options each day?
Nobbs: Our chef and I sit down once a week and we plan out the menu for a month in the future. Our menu changes over the course of about 10 days. The menu changes completely and every day we add two, three, or four new items that replace other items. When creating our menu, it's a combination of what sounds good to us, since we're our own customers. We combine that with feedback we get from our customers. We are soliciting feedback from customers every day and having conversations every week with customers on the phone. So, we have our finger on the pulse of what they're looking for.
We also always have at least one low carb item, one vegan item and one autoimmune item. Most of the time, we have more than one. We also want to make sure that we have variety, so we don't have four different Mexican dishes or like three different Chinese stir-frys.
What systems do you have in place to deliver consistently in 40 minutes or less?
Nobbs: I should clarify that we don't have a delivery policy of guaranteed 30 minutes or less. Our average delivery time is about 40 minutes. For example, when a user chooses to check out, and their ordering at 7:00 p.m., their delivery window will be 7:30 to 8:30.
But, we're optimized for delivery unlike a typical restaurant and all of our dishes are designed to be fully cooked in 10 minutes or less.
As orders come in, we have a full staff ready and we've invested a lot in the internal system we use. Every cook has his or her own iPad that tells them what they need to do at any given time, how many of each he or she needs to cook, when it's supposed to be ready by, etc. So, everyone is in the loop on what needs to be done when without having to scream at each other in the kitchen.
We also worked really hard to figure out where in the city we need to be. Right now we're in various central sites in San Francisco. If you're a restaurant that happens to be in the northeast part of the city, it can be really hard to deliver to the southwest part of the city because you're so far away. But, we're centrally located in San Francisco.
What trends do you see today in consumer's eating habits and how is Mealmade catering to them?
Nobbs: I think more than anything people are just becoming aware that there is a healthier way to eat. For my friends and colleagues and I when we were growing up we ate just because it tasted good. For the most part, you didn't think much more about it. A healthy diet was something people did to lose weight.
More people are coming around to the fact that what you eat can have and play a big role in how you feel about yourself overall, like how you look, your complexion and how energized you are. Consumers have come around to the fact that cooking with butter is not good. Having lots of sugar is not good. Eating tons of refined flour is not good. Not only are we catering to the healthy eating trend, but it's also how we think we have the biggest impact on the world. We want to help people feel better.
What's next for Mealmade?
Nobbs: Besides prepping for our brick-and-mortar store, we're getting into corporate catering and we're about to launch a mobile app.