Munchery, the hot dinner-delivery startup that brings customers meals to pop straight into the oven, is broadening its menu.
Starting today in Munchery's hometown of San Francisco, customers can order more than almost-ready-to-eat dinners, They'll also be able to order almost-almost-ready-to-eat-dinner: dinner that is sliced and diced, so you can take the satisfying last step of frying, sauteeing, or roasting the meal before serving it.
This may be a small distinction. But that does not mean it's an insignificant one.
Munchery has made a name for itself by also delivering on-demand pre-cooked dinners in select zip codes in New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles. One might consider it the center of a Venn diagram of many trends: dinner delivery via app (think: Seamless); food that skews sustainable and local; simplified home-cooking (a la Plated or Blue Apron).
The move into delivering on-demand meal kits--minus the subscription models of those aforementioned competitors--elbows even further into the latter category. Customers can now get a mix of ready-to-eat (say, a salad or sashimi), ready-to-heat (say, a roast chicken that's delivered cold, so a customer just has to pop it in the oven for a few minutes) and ready-to-prepare (say, a pre-cut roll of uncooked beef, ready to be marinated, seared with onions, and topped with sauce) meals. The target customers are still the same: harried families who want to eat well at home, but who don't have enough time to cook properly. The company promises the ready-to-cook meal boxes will each require fewer than 15 minutes to prepare each, and cost $18 to $24 for a two-person meal.
The expanded offerings will roll out to all other Munchery service areas later this year.
The move into ready-to-cook meal delivery, though it seems like a small step, signifies Munchery's massive ambitions: to become the default provider of high quality, fresh food, no matter its shape or form. And to listen to the company's chief executive and co-founder, Tri Tran, talk about it, his vision is so large it's possible to imagine Munchery, and other services like it, actually going up against the big grocery stores in ways that not even Fresh Direct have been able to.
"People are so ingrained into this whole process of going to the market and getting your food. It's still that process," Tran says. "How do we make that a better experience--and less wasteful?"
By that he means that Americans are notoriously bad at actually consuming their groceries once they reach their refrigerators. Tran blames stores, in part, for portioning things bizarrely. Need a bit of bok choy for a recipe? Well, they are only sold in two-pound bags. And grocery stores toss out anything beyond its prime, which happens frequently, due to poor anticipation of demand. Tran contends that, given Munchery's tech platform and the scale on which the company already operates, the company does not have that sort of problem. Every single apple it buy from a farm will be used in a salad or desert before it could possibly bruise.
"We already have this amazing platform where we can make food at scale and distribute food that day. Now that we have this platform, we can move the food much faster, and distribute perfect portions of it the very day you need it," Tran says.
And now that Munchery is beginning to branch out into, essentially, bringing your dinner-shopping-list home for you, who's to say that soon it won't also bring you your coffee beans, along with a yogurt and banana to pack for breakfast the following day, along with your dinner? Then we'll see that it's not Blue Apron or Plated that's in the line of fire here, but rather the local supermarket.
Another recent move by Munchery include bringing on Pascal Rigo, the founder of San Francisco's La Boulange, the chain purchased for $100 million by Starbucks, and then slowly closed down. (Rigo is simultaneously and separately reopening several of his former cafes as "Boulangerie.") Rigo is in charge of customer experience, and this launch of ready-to-cook meals is his first major project with the company.
He's big on making diners delighted--but admits it's been a big change trying to design packaging and dinners for peoples whose reactions he'll never see.
"It's hard for us--for me--to be able to see our customer. I like to see their expression when they react to a dish," he says. But he says he's spent a tremendous amount of time imagining customers' experiences. "If you really believe and want to do the best that you can for your customers, you are going to imagine what can be the very best customer experience when they open that bag."
Perhaps in addition to simply expanding the business into new lines of products, this move is a play to form tighter bonds with its existing customers. He explained that in conversations with customers, most old him they enjoyed the act of cooking, but felt extremely time-pressed when cooking on weeknights.
"We want people to feel that amazing productive feeling--so we have kitchens that do all the mundane steps for you, the prepping and the chopping," Tran says. "But you get to do the fun stuff: sautéing the vegetables or pouring the sauce on. All you need is a pan and some fire." He's alluding to the fact humans are wired to love not just food, but also fire, and seeing food being made. (Perhaps you've noticed this. After all, there are entire cable channels dedicated to cooking.)
The promise of Munchery's new moves, per Tran? "You're gonna feel like a million bucks afterf 15 minutes--tops--of work."