business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

Hungryroot, the ever-evolving plant-based product maker, wants to be the one-click curator of your grocery cart.

Last week, Hungryroot announced its repositioning as the “first and only personalized online grocery service” – driven by consumer preferences using artificial intelligence and complete with easy, healthy recipes.

In addition to its nutrient-dense and largely plant-based offerings, HungryRoot is partnering with 20 emerging food brands, including the popular Beyond Meat, Banza and Right Rice brands, in its corporate “refresh.” The company's goal seems to be five consumers easy and informed access to plant-based products while curating quality items in the space from a a variety of brands.

Company founder and CEO Ben McKean went so far as to proclaim: “We’re taking on Amazon Fresh, Whole Foods, and other competitors to offer consumers a more convenient and modern way to shop for healthy groceries.”

A pretty bold assertion, I would say, bordering on hubris, but interesting given Hungryroot’s past pivots and gambles.

Hungryroot launched in 2015 as an online meal kit provider, specializing in vegan and gluten-free meals that took seven minutes or less to prepare – compared to the up to 30-minute prep time required by “organic” competitors such as Sun Basket or then market leader Blue Apron.

In its first year, Hungryroot had six products, which grew to more than 30. Faced with stress on production lines by March 2017, McKean shut down the company for six months to reconfigure, forfeiting $1 million a month in revenue.

The retooling, and a round of refinancing, worked. For its revamped weekly delivery service, Hungryroot is now touting a new digital experience allowing customers to select their food preferences, dietary restrictions, frequency, and allow for consumer feedback. Using a proprietary technology, Hungryroot will curate the order, include recipes, and deliver weekly.

McKean told Direct-to-Consumer the new survey allows Hungryroot to mine rich data for its own products and for those of its partners.

Clearly, Hungryroot plans to continue evolving. The company opened a pop-up in New York’s trendy Flatiron District for almost three months earlier this year, to positive reviews.

In one interesting development, McKean told Forbes that it would make its branded products, including the signature Almond Chickpea Cookie Dough and Black Bean Brownie Batter, available to private grocery stores. Which creates two intriguing possibilities.

One is that traditional retailers should look to the Hungryroot model and mimic it, doing a better job of curating and marketing items in the plant-based sector; it indeed this is more than a fad, retailers should take advantage of the moment and make it more than just another category.

Or, perhaps retailers could team with the company and create Hungryroot sections, outsourcing the curation process in a way that would resonant with shoppers.

Either is possible. The upside potential is enormous.

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