Excessive waste is one of the biggest problems facing the grocery industry today, with 31% of the available food supply at the retail and consumer level written off as a loss. (Source: USDA)
I recently spoke with Ben McKean, CEO and Founder of Hungryroot, the only grocery delivery and recipe service designed to make healthy eating easy, personal and sustainable. Ben and I discussed how AI is central to what Hungryroot does – from reducing food waste to impacting how consumers eat.
Gary Drenik: Thanks for meeting me today, Ben. To get started, tell me about the mission behind Hungryroot and how it’s different from other online grocers.
Ben McKean: Eating healthy is difficult. Customers tell us this all the time – on top of the countless hours spent each week planning, shopping and finally cooking meals for their homes, the mental load of the whole process is just too much. Add to that the desire to eat healthily and many are ready to give up, turning instead to more expensive and less healthy alternatives like take-out or fast food. That’s why we’ve made it our mission to make healthy eating easy – instead of overwhelming. We do what no other store or service does by blending recipe discovery, meal planning, and shopping to create a personalized, stress-busting experience that gets better with every visit.
Meal kits and other delivery services have yet to address these pain points – they lack variety, they don’t always offer healthy groceries that cater to specific food preferences, and recipes are often asking for a lot. work and take too long to prepare. On-demand and instant delivery services only cater to a very specific “last minute” use case. That’s why we see so many opportunities around our personalized, customer-focused approach to creating the food experience that consumers crave most.
Drenik: Explain how your company’s technological advancements are driving your industry forward.
McKean: At the height of Covid-19, we began to see the migration to the web accelerate, with grocers of all kinds transforming their physical stores into digital shopping aisles. But as consumers grow accustomed to the convenience of having their groceries delivered to their doorstep, they now expect more from their e-tailer of choice. Consumers don’t just want a digitized in-store experience — they want to spend less time on meal planning, they want their grocery store to improve their experience with every visit, and they want their grocer to understand their needs. At Hungryroot, we believe that creating personalized customer experiences, or “personalized grocery shopping,” is the future of grocery shopping and what consumers will continue to seek.
When a Hungryroot customer signs up, they answer a questionnaire about their food preferences: things like food goals, family size, etc., and then our AI-powered platform fills their cart with grocery and recipe recommendations. Every week we get to know the customer better – every time they edit their cart, for example to add a recipe we didn’t think they would like, Hungryroot learns and improves with each visit. And while our AI allows us to improve the traditional grocery experience for the customer as a whole, we also have an impact on the environment and also help our customers reduce their food waste footprint.
Drenik: It’s a good point, 43 billion pounds of food in American grocery stores are thrown away (Source: USDA). How can artificial intelligence help solve America’s food waste problem?
McKean: It is true and it is an alarming figure to say the least. When the company was founded, we identified food waste – both in-store and at home – as a bigger problem in the food industry. And because impacting people and our planet is important to us at Hungryroot, we’ve built sustainability into our core business model.
Because our AI knows our customers’ needs, preferences, and goals, we’re able to recommend healthy groceries framed in recipes that show them how to use every ingredient they get. With recipe support suitable for households of all sizes, we reduce the risk of customers ending up with half bags of spinach that are thrown away instead of fully utilized. One of our customers even reported having “Has only thrown away a small potato, a stalk of asparagus and two shaved pieces of Brussels sprouts in the past year using Hungryroot.”
Also, as you mentioned above, grocery stores are one of the root causes of food waste in America. The AI at the center of what Hungryroot does allows us to have dramatically less waste not only at consumers, but also in our warehouses. Since we know exactly what our customers want in their carts each week, we only source what we are actually able to sell, resulting in one of the lowest food waste percentages. of the industry, which sits at 2% compared to the industry standard of 30% (source).
Drenik: How does Hungryroot’s technology influence individual eating habits?
McKean: Our proprietary technology creates personalized recommendations to help introduce customers to foods we know they’ll love based on what we know about them. In our role as a trusted guide, we can encourage customers to make food choices that are better for the planet. For example, a recent survey by Prosper Insights and Analytics found that consumers are buying more meatless foods (+8.6%), plant-based beverages (+7.8%) and meat products from plant-based (+4.4%) to get more of a flexitarian lifestyle. So, if a customer indicates that they want to receive more protein in their weekly deliveries, but also want to eat healthier overall as a personal goal, our technology can recommend a combination of animal and plant protein to the customer. Over time and by monitoring customer purchasing and consumption patterns, we can slowly begin to incorporate more and more plant-based protein into their baskets at customer discretion. This allows for a sense of product discovery for the customer, but also helps encourage them to make healthier food choices that positively impact themselves and the planet.
Drenik: What does the future of groceries look like?
McKean: A recent Prosper Insights and Analytics survey found that consumers’ use of “home delivery services” in the store where they shop most often has more than doubled since 2019, which is fully in line with trends that we also see on our side. . We expect to see more and more consumers turning to e-commerce or other online solutions for their weekly shopping because of its added ease and convenience. As more and more consumers change their online shopping habits, emphasizing basic ease and convenience is no longer enough. Consumers have come to expect more – they want the convenience of home delivery, a curated experience, healthy foods chosen just for them, and guidance on how to use food. At Hungryroot, we believe in providing consumers with a premium, personal and sustainable experience, which is why we have set ourselves the goal of redefining the way consumers plan, buy and consume food.
Drenik: Thank you, Ben, for introducing me to Hungryroot and providing valuable insight into how your service uses AI for the good of consumers and the environment.
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