“When I worked in finance I didn’t have time to make food,” said Home Chef founder and CEO Pat Vihtelic. “Home Chef came out of my own personal need for the product.”
Home Chef, a meal discovery service, just raised a seed round from Guild Capital to re-make eating for busy professionals. The online platform sends meal ingredients and instructions to customers, who then prepare the meal at home.
“This isn’t a brand new concept,” said Vihtelic. “It’s been done for at least a decade by retail stores. The thing was they weren’t delivering that service online.”
Customers sign up online for the meal subscription service, enter in meal preferences, then Home Chef’s software customizes its menu offerings to their tastes. Each customer is offered nine meals per week (a customer must subscribe to two meals at minimum). Typically, customers purchase three to four meals a week, said Vihtelic.
“It’s very personalized for our customers,” said Vihtelic. “Part of the sign-up is telling us dietary preferences as well as telling us ingredients you want us to avoid.”
“It pulls together recipes that I wouldn’t have thought of on my on,” said Vihtelic. “It’s likely you will find something that will fit your taste profile.”
Much of the service’s appeal is its ability to discover new meals for its users. To keep the meals fresh and interesting, Home Chef employs four full-time chefs that are constantly churning out new recipes. This ensures a certain sense of novelty for customers.
Trader Joe’s has done well pursuing a similar model in the frozen and packaged goods market. The grocery store purposely limits its selection and offers well-branded, high-quality, yet low preparation time meals. The appeal, to a busy professional, is a more efficiently purchased and consumed meal, with an exotic flair and no quality sacrificed.
But Home Chef differentiates itself from Trader Joe's by making its meals interactive. While Home Chef’s ingredients and recipe delivery service may seem half-baked, the company sees that as one of its main appeals. “Home Chef offers the ability to enjoy home cooking, to still have the Julia Child moment in the kitchen,” said Shelby Parker, a spokeswomen for the company.
So how big is the ingredient and recipe delivery opportunity? A Boston Consulting Group study projects the online grocery market to grow to $100 billion by 2018. To that point, the number of online food delivery services has certainly been climbing steadily in recent years. Particularly, Amazon Fresh, a grocery delivery service by Amazon, has been steadily expanding into new cities up and down the West Coast.
Home Chef has been delivering meals since September 2013 and now reaches 60 percent of the country from their Chicago distribution center. Vihtelic cites 100 percent growth last month as a sign of the company’s trajectory. He hopes to use that momentum to raise a Series A round of capital this fall.