Back in September, Mark Bittman, bestselling author and New York Times Op-Ed columnist, surprised the food world when he revealed that he would be leaving the Times to join a startup with the goal of “helping people eat more plants.” On November 2, Boston-based vegan meal delivery startup Purple Carrot announced that Mark Bittman had joined the company full-time as Partner and Chief Innovation Officer, ending weeks of speculation about where Bittman was headed next.
Purple Carrot is an all-vegan version of meal-kit delivery services like Plated, Blue Apron, Green Chef, and HelloFresh. One of the key selling points of such services is that they take all the guesswork out of cooking at home. You get perfectly portioned fresh ingredients delivered right to your doorstep, detailed instructions on how to to prepare them, and with minimal effort, you end up with a pretty good meal. The services run on a subscription model, and the space, in general, has proven to be quite successful in the past few years. Blue Apron leads the pack delivering 3 million meals per month, and recently raised $135 million at a $2 billion valuation. And the overall meal-kit service market is estimated to grow between $3 billion-$5 billion over the next 10 years based on current adoption rates.
While a proven business model and market potential are all great reasons to want to jump into the meal-kit delivery space, if one is looking to create an alternative to Plated, Blue Apron, Green Chef or HelloFresh, why would an all-vegan meal service be a smart bet?
Here are three reasons Bittman made the right move:
1. Americans Want to Eat More Meatless Meals
If you stop to think about how consumer trends in the food space have been experiencing a monumental shift in recent years, it becomes abundantly clear why a vegan meal-kit delivery is a logical step. Flexitarian eating is the new normal; as much as 26 percent of American consumers now fall into the category of “flexitarians,” who prefer a diet dominated by plant-based foods. As Americans learn more about how food is directly tied to our health and well-being, as well as the health of the planet, they are seeking better options, namely less meat, and more plant-based foods. This explains the rise of meatless and dairy-free options in grocery stores, the proliferation of veggie options in fast food chains as well the launch of companies like 22-Days Nutrition (with high-profile celebrity partners like Beyoncé) to Veestro and Lighter Culture that are exclusively offering all-vegan pre-prepared meal delivery services. The demand is there, and meal-kit delivery services have the added benefit of teaching consumers how to cook, which Bittman has said for years is something Americans need to do more of to improve their health.
As a digital media publisher that reaches millions of eco-conscious readers every month, with the largest collection of vegan recipes on the Internet (over 5,000) we can attest to the fact that One Green Planet’s growth has been fueled in part by a growing interest in conscious eating, cooking at home and vegan recipes in particular. Vegan food is hot right now, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down!
2. Investors Are Seeing Opportunities in the Plant-Based Food Market
Our current food system with animal agriculture at its core is broken, and there is huge financial opportunity in betting on innovative foods as the disruptive force that can transform the food industry from the inside out.
In the past few years, venture capital firms have woken up to this idea and funneled billions in food technology startups that are developing innovative new products, several of which are vegan. Firms like Obvious Ventures, Google Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates’ Gates Ventures, SOSventures and Horizons Investors are betting millions in companies like Hampton Creek, Impossible Foods, Lyrical Foods, Muufri, Modern Meadow and others to develop foods of the future that are made entirely out of plants. These companies are largely responding to the demand of a rising flexitarian consumer, but consumer interest in vegan food is not limited to meat substitutes and other packaged foods you can find in the refrigerated or frozen food sections of grocery stores. In fact, a huge part of the shift towards flexitarian eating has been driven by the fact that U.S. consumers have also grown more wary of processed foods and the interest in clean, whole foods is on the rise. There is growing awareness that eating food consisting of real, clean, fresh ingredients that are as close to their natural state is the healthiest option. A meal-kit delivery service like Purple Carrot has the opportunity to tap into this trend as well.
3. Food System Reform Starts on Our Plates
Bittman has written extensively about how we need to reform our food system, and he is well aware of the fact that doing so will require a combination of factors ranging from changing consumer habits, industry reform/innovation, and policy-level action.
First and foremost, we cannot deny that our food system dominated by industrial animal agriculture is at the heart of our environmental crisis. This destructive industry currently occupies over half of the world’s arable land resources, uses the majority of our freshwater stores, and drives greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, this system causes rampant air and water pollution, land degradation, deforestation and is pushing countless species to the brink of extinction. And yet, one in eight people still suffer from food scarcity.
In the face of these growing issues, we have the opportunity to shift away from animal agriculture and start to repair the damage that has been done by looking to vegan food. I strongly believe that our food choices have the power to heal our broken food system, give species a fighting chance for survival, make more food available for human consumption, and pave the way for a truly sustainable future.
By working with a meal-kit delivery startup that is focusing on vegan food, Mark Bittman is finally putting his words on food reform into action by directly helping people eat in a way that can drastically cut their carbon footprint, save precious water supplies and help ensure that vital crop resources are fed to people, rather than livestock.
Not only does a vegan meal-kit delivery service win environmentally on all of the above counts, meal-kit companies can source more measured quantities of better, seasonal ingredients directly from producers, thereby potentially minimizing food waste in the process. U.S. supermarkets and grocery stores throw out 43 billion pounds, or $46.7 billion worth, of food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Not only is this a missed opportunity to redistribute food to those in need, but food waste decomposing in landfills also releases an enormous amount of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. By pre-portioning meals for consumers and providing detailed preparation instructions, Purple Carrot can minimize this negative waste impact.
The big drawback, however, is all the packaging involved in meal delivery. Given all the plastic typically used for these kinds of services, it was good to see the Purple Carrot announcement mention that Bittman plans to work with the meal-kit industry at large to make packaging and sourcing more sustainable.
Will Bittman Succeed?
While it is too early to say how this will pan out and if Bittman can utilize his extensive knowledge of the food industry to propel Purple Carrot’s growth, he’s definitely the guy I would put my money on to lead the charge. Of course there are multiple factors at play here as Purple Carrot is only about a year old, just expanding into the West Coast and currently closing out a $3 million seed round. Success will depend equally on figuring out the logistical complexities of sourcing and delivering meal-kits nationwide as much as it will depend on Bittman’s prowess in the kitchen and beyond.
Can Bittman and Purple Carrot alone propel a real shift in eating habits nationwide? Probably not. But if we are going to have any hope of transforming our food system and changing the way Americans eat, every new startup like Purple Carrot or food expert like Bittman who gets on board with the idea of promoting plant-based food is a huge step in the right direction.
Our everyday food choices have the power to heal our broken food system, give species a fighting chance for survival, and pave the way for a truly sustainable future.
Join One Green Planet’s #EatForthePlanet movement.
How to Participate:
1. Choose a plant-based/vegan meal
3. Add #EatForThePlanet and @OneGreenPlanet in your update.
Let’s show the world how eating vegan/plant-based has never been easier or more delicious!
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Lead image source: Romulo Yanes