New York has no shortage of startups using technology to disrupt the food industry. If you can dream it up, chances are someone else has already brought it to life. And why not? New Yorkers like to eat, and the food industry is rife with opportunities for improvement. After all, total retail and food service sales in the United States alone add up to a massive $5.32 trillion a year, so certainly there’s enough pie to go around.
Bad puns aside, we checked in to see what's going on at the crossroads of two of our favorite things: food and tech.
What they do: Boxed is a simple way to get bulk items to your home without a trip to the store. The company provides wholesale prices on a variety of items, including groceries, without the membership fee.
Headquarters: New York
What they do: Blue Apron has taken on a massive task: to change how people cook at home. Their weekly subscription service delivers everything you need to make a good, quality, fresh meal at home. We’re not talking Hamburger Helper or Easy Mac — they’ll have you cooking things like caramelized onion and kale quiche with frisée and pear salad. They also have a wine-pairing option, where their sommelier will pick a bottle to go with each meal. It’s increasingly difficult to justify eating hot pockets and frozen burritos for dinner.
What they do: ALOHA.com is all about keeping it close to earth with completely plant-based, organic, soy-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan and non-GMO goods. With the collection of competing information available today, knowing what is healthy and what is not can easily be overwhelming and confusing to consumers. ALOHA is bringing nutrition back to basics with protein products, teas and snack bars made from simple, whole ingredients.
What they do: Freshly is kind of like eating out at a high-end restaurant on-demand and from the comfort and convenience of wherever you may be. You sign up for a subscription, select between four and 12 meals each week and they do all the work. The finished product appears at your house in a refrigerated, recyclable box. You can eat your heart out too, as all their ingredients and recipes are healthy, gluten-free, with no refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, and packed with veggies and clean proteins.
Headquarters: Flatiron District
What they do: If Blue Apron is changing the way you cook at home, FreshDirect is changing the way you shop for ingredients. Long gone are the days of waiting in a 400+ person line at the Union Square Whole Foods (or, God help you, any Trader Joes in the city). FreshDirect lets you order your groceries in the same way you’d order socks off of Amazon. You tell them what time you want them to drop off your food and it’ll show up at your door. The company recently pulled in a massive $189 million round of funding and introduced one-hour delivery in certain locations.
Founded: Long Island City
What they do: While everyone wants to live like Anthony Bourdain, only one man gets that honor. But, these days, you can have delicious goodies from around the world shipped to your door. TryTheWorld sends expert chefs around the world to create curated boxes of food from local artisans. Think of it like having Bourdain as an uncle who ships you packages on his travels.
Headquarters: Greenwich Village
What they do: HowGood spent eight years building out a comprehensive food sustainability database to guide consumers on which brands to buy. Today, you can access that information on their website, app or on in-store advertising. No one wants to eat eggs that came from tortured hens, and now it's easy to tell the difference.
What they do: Local Bushel is bringing the farmers market online and fresh produce to your door. Sure, the farmers' market is quaint and we all enjoy going once in awhile, but the reality is that we're busy people and farmers markets in New York are overrun. So, rather than hauling your greens home from Union Square, Local Bushel lets you order them online. With the push of a couple of buttons, you'll have farm-fresh ingredients rushed to your door.
What they do: Most New Yorkers don’t have the time, knowledge, space or patience to make a home cooked meal. But, that's not to say we're monsters who don't enjoy one from time to time. Umi Kitchen is kind of like Uber, but for home cooked meals. Their platform connects local cooks with people in need of a real meal. You get online and see what people in your community are cooking, select what you want, and it'll be delivered with heating instructions and an ingredients list.
Yes, we know what you're thinking. The answer is that every cook listed on Umi is food safety trained and food handler certified, just like chefs in restaurants. And as for your other question, all the meals and chefs are reviewed by other customers, so you'll know who to order from.
What they do: Cookunity is kind of like Umi Kitchen, in that it connects hungry consumers with home cooks — but with a twist. Instead of just connecting you with anyone, Cookunity connects you with a freelance chef working out of a private kitchen. Think of it like moonlighting for chefs, or like a way you can finally afford a personal chef (they just won't actually be personal). Users look through the site to see what the chefs are cooking, order and your chef-prepared meal will arrive soon after. Like Umi Kitchen, your meal shows up with heating instructions and you’re able to eat like a king on your couch.
What they do: Olo provides the power behind the digital ordering business of big chain restaurants. You didn't think that restaurants are building out online point of sale (POS) systems from scratch, did you? Olo works with large chains — think Chipotle and Five Guys — and builds out their online ordering and pickup business. The software integrates with the restaurant's existing, in-person POS system and allows customers to check out and order online without creating headaches for the restaurant. So far, the company works with over 150 restaurant groups.
What they do: Food52 is an online community for foodies and cooks. You can think of them kind of like a one-stop shop for food related media. The site hosts everything from contests to recipes, along with a healthy dash of food-related editorial content. If you want to read about how the ‘Cure for Condensations Involves Paper’ or are curious ‘What Makes a Good Shower Beer, Anyway,’ look no further. Food52 also operates a popular food forum and shop that sells a curated array of items to pimp your kitchen.
What they do: Gebni is bringing the world of real-time, dynamic pricing to the world of delivery food. Why should you pay full price to buy an unpopular menu item at an off-peak time? Gebni's software lets restaurants price their menu items in real time according to the laws of supply and demand. If Adam Smith is right, that should be a good thing for all.
What they do: It wasn't too long ago that going out to eat at just about anywhere but a fancy restaurant or a chain meant paying in cash or meeting an absurd credit card minimum. ShopKeep makes the iPad point of sale system you see used in small businesses around the city. While their software obviously has uses outside the world of eating, it has also allowed small, independent restaurants to use tools that were previously out of reach.
Images via companies featured.