Ben McKean seemed clairvoyant in 2012 when he sold his startup Savored to Groupon for a reported price of between $15 million and $20 million. With Savored, he had predicted that restaurants would increasingly use yield management technology to drive revenue. With his latest venture, HungryRoot, McKean is again betting on the next big movement in food. But will he strike gold twice?
HungryRoot offers a unique spin on the idea of food delivery. The company prepares fresh, all-natural convenience foods that are high in protein, fiber, and nutrients and ships them directly to consumers across the U.S. .
Some HungryRoot dishes come ready to eat, while all others can be cooked in either a microwave or on a stovetop in less than seven minutes. All of the startup’s meals are guaranteed to remain fresh for at least 10 days. This is something that distinguishes its offerings from companies like Blue Apron, which ship ingredients and recipes but require consumers to do the prep work and actual cooking.
The idea for HungryRoot came from McKean’s experience at Savored. “After I sold the company I stayed at Groupon for two years running their food and beverage category, and during that time I became more and more interested in what I felt like was this new category of food that was emerging within restaurants,” he tells Free Enterprise.
“It was centered around this concept of bringing vegetables to the center of the plate and celebrating vegetables and creating meals that are vegetable-based. But it wasn’t solely about the fact that they’re healthy. It’s because they’re delicious, they’re cravable, and they can even feel indulgent at times.”
HungryRoot’s spin on this culinary trend is the stuff appetites are made of, with the company’s signature dishes including sweet potato noodles with creamy cashew alfredo, root risotto with thyme apple butter, daikon noodles with Korean scallion gochujang, and almond chickpea cookie dough. But while some of those ingredients might sound exotic, their flavor profiles work so well together that it’s easy to forget you’re eating vegetables. That ultimately is HungryRoot’s goal.
The kind of food that HungryRoot specializes in has largely fallen under the umbrella of vegan foods, McKean argues. He credits one Philadelphia restaurant, in particular, for showing how it doesn’t have to be that way. “I specifically remember going to a restaurant in Philadelphia called Vedge, which was always careful not to brand itself as a vegan restaurant, but rather a vegetable-centric restaurant,” he says.
“I remember having dinner there and saying, ‘This is one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to.’ What was so interesting was that it just happened that all of the main dishes were centered on vegetables. There was a beet risotto. There was a dish that mimicked beef Carpaccio but was actually mushrooms. Everything was fantastic. That’s when I said there’s an opportunity to create a brand around foods that use vegetables and formats that you’re familiar with, but that you wouldn’t associate vegetables being used in otherwise.”
By emphasizing how its dishes taste and make you feel, McKean and his team are hoping that they can take advantage of this emergent, vegetable-centric food trend. They want to bring what’s thus far been largely confined to kitchens at high-end restaurants and deliver it directly to a person’s home. To help accomplish that goal, the company has made its offerings available through partnerships with Amazon Fresh and FreshDirect.
McKean sees more and more ways to continue expanding and further differentiating the product as it becomes increasingly popular. “Sourcing organic and local products is very important to us, and we do everything we can there,” he says. “I think that as we scale, the opportunities to do so actually only increase, and we’re excited about that.”
Apart from the potential impact the company could have, McKean sees other unique ways that HungryRoot is disrupting the status quo, particularly when it comes to convenience foods. From canned soups to frozen dinners, the majority of these kinds of products are unhealthy and, in McKean’s estimation, not very good. He thinks that HungryRoot will help usher in a new category of convenience foods.
“We’re using technology to shorten the supply chain and to offer that same value proposition that convenience food offers, but to offer it in a healthy and fresh format,” he says. “From that perspective, I think that’s why people like it. A crazy statistic is that Americans, on average, eat six convenience foods a day, and right now all of those convenience foods are either chemically preserved or frozen. If you can offer that same value proposition of quick and easy, but you can offer it in a healthy, fresh format, I think you’re really positively impacting people.”
With estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that nearly 90% of Americans fail to meet vegetable intake recommendations, HungryRoot could be at the forefront of a transformational movement. But are people ready? Either way, a healthy dinner—or breakfast or lunch or dessert—is served.