BY DAVID ZAX
IS YOUR POST-LUNCH SLUMP INTERFERING WITH WORK (OR YOUR PAUNCH GETTING IN THE WAY OF YOUR KEYBOARD)? INTRODUCING DELIVERLEAN, ONE OF A NEW CLASS OF FOOD STARTUPS THAT MAKES EATING HEALTHIER LESS PAINFUL.
Some years back, Scott Harris was running a call center, and he was trying to figure out how to make his employees more productive. What he found was that the lunch hour was the real slump–not so much the lunch hour itself, he recalls, but the half-hour spent beforehand figuring out where to go, and the hour spent readjusting once his workers had returned. So Harris decided to do something that might seem like a luxury: he brought in a chef to make food for the workers, and to feed them small, healthy, more frequent portions. Productivity soared, and a business idea was born.
DeliverLean is now spreading something like his call-center solution to companies in a 150-mile radius of Boca Raton, Florida. It’s not alone in the land grab for hungry workers–Blue Apron, Fooda, Munchery, and Spoonrocket, among many others, all cater to time-pressed professionals who want to eat better. But it is growing quickly–in just two and a half years, DeliverLean has gone from 5,000 meals a month at launch to more than 100,000 meals a month today.
Most DeliverLean meals are based on a four-ounce serving of a lean protein source, plus a complex carbohydrate and a vegetable. (All manner of modifications are available, for the vegetarians, vegans, gluten-avoidant, and so forth.) “Each meal is calorically balanced and weighed, which eliminates the guesswork,” explains Harris. The service is something of a hybrid of a diet plan and restaurant delivery scheme–and yet it’s neither. “It’s sold more as a lifestyle,” says Harris, a notion evident from the company’s promotional videos.
“We have three different real sources of business,” says Harris. The first is direct-to-consumer. The second is businesses like Harris’s old call center, who view the meal plan as a form of corporate wellness (similar to something like built-in exercise breaks), and may foot all or part of the bill for their employees. And the third, surprisingly, is the medical community, which Harris says makes up almost a third of its business. Doctors often prescribe diets, of course–but many people lack the time, competence, or discipline to stick to one.
All of which makes January, the season of dietary and health resolutions, payday for a company like DeliverLean. “Most people who go on diets tend not to stick to them,” says Harris. “But this is lifestyle, and it could be something you’re on for a very long time.”
Convenience is obviously a factor in the company’s success. Meals are delivered every two days in a insulated cooler bag in the wee hours, like a newspaper of old. The number of meals in your bag will be determined by your plan, of course–if you’ve signed up for four meals a day, you’ll find eight. Call it a “frictionless resolution”; DeliverLean all but automates willpower. It needn’t break the bank, either (depending, of course, on the size of your bank): the four-meal-a-day plan, for instance, prices a meal at eight bucks.
Harris’s New Year’s resolution, it would seem–like a lot of entrepreneurs–is expansion. He says the company has just found space in New York from which to launch the company’s next phase. “Ideally we’d like to be a national presence,” he says, adding he also has his eyes trained on the health-happy West Coast.
He hopes to find more influence, too, within that medical community that already offers so many referrals. The biggest hope is to “break into health insurance,” he says, marketing his company as something like a gym membership, which in some cases can reduce premiums. “Most illness stems from food-related issues” in Harris’s opinion, citing grim statistics on obesity and diabetes. “We’re not eating food. We’re eating food-like substances.”