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Dec. 30, 2013 10:30 am

DinnerTime: subscription healthy meal prep web app on customer hunt

DinnerTime works by allowing a new user to create a personalized meal-planning experience, powered by a patent-pending meal selection algorithm that takes into account nearby grocery sales.

DinnerTime team from left: Jean Halle, senior advisor; Renée Lemley, marketing; Sharon Lacy, cofounder and vice president; Laura Moore, cofounder and CEO; Dr. Angela Jansen, vice president of science and informatics, Charlie Moore, cofounder; Doug Lay, vice president of IT

What we feed our families is one of the most important decisions we make. But Laura Moore says we don’t often put the time into it that we should.

“The problem is that so few of us plan ahead, currently,” she said, adding that four out of five American households don’t know what they’re having for dinner as of 2pm on an average day.

With that pain point in mind, Moore is cofounder and CEO with her husband, Charlie Moore, of Baltimore-based DinnerTime, a subscription-based personalized web app that helps families plan and prepare meals each week. After two years of product validation, the team is now selling to customers, seeing whether they can scale their idea into a fully fledged business.

Since launching their first market intelligence in 2011, DinnerTime has hit a number of considerable goals in 2013:

  • In September, they brought on their first paid employer customers.
  • In November, they launched direct consumer subscriptions, primarily through doctor and nutritionist referral.
  • Early this month, DinnerTime landed one of its largest clients yet, offered to the 195,000 employees of a large national department store chain.

“We see ourselves as being still at the very earliest stages of building a major company, with a double bottom line,” said Charlie.

DinnerTime leverages the pervasiveness of Internet access and devices with a nagging temper of current times: many families feel stressed with limited time to prepare, cook and eat healthy meals each night with everyone gathered at the table. Families too often resort to fast-food pickups or carry-out meals that, in general, can contribute to unhealthy diets, leading to negative health conditions, said Laura.

DinnerTime works by allowing a new user to create a personalized meal-planning experience, powered by a patent-pending meal selection algorithm that takes into account nearby grocery sales. (The front-end design of the application was developed in partnership with Smart Logic.)

By answering a few quick questions about the user’s meal-planning needs and preferences, such as how often meals are made at home, number of servings needed and a family’s preferred grocery retailer, the user’s new profile is set. The profile also includes questions about tastes, food allergies, cultural restrictions or personal health considerations.

Once this less-than 10-minute process is complete, meal planning begins.

Users are asked what day they plan to shop and what grocery store. Through its backend, DinnerTime aggregates data on all of the major retailers’ big weekly sales to facilitate cost-efficient buying to match personalized meal planning recommendations. Then, each morning, DinnerTime sends a reminder email that features all of the key information about the dinner plan for the day as well as the next day’s plan.

DinnerTime is targeting what Charlie Moore calls B2B-E (business to business to employee).

“Large, self-insured employers pay for their employees to have access to DinnerTime and encourage them to join and actively use the system,” said Charlie. “Following an alpha last January and beta in March, we did two pilots with the employees of an insurance carrier and a hospital.”

Following the pilot programs, a half dozen companies are using the service.

One customer, Medstar Union Memorial Hospital near the Hopkins Homewood campus, uses the web app as one of its employee benefits and as part of its corporate culture for patient and employee care.

“DinnerTime is an actionable opportunity to demonstrate to our employees that their health and well-being at home is important to us too,” hospital president Brad Chambers said in a release provided.

The company’s consumer sales strategy is also to bring weight loss doctors and other professionals on board to recommend the service to their patients. DinnerTime’s consumer cost structure is $29 for three months or $89 per year.

DinnerTime, which currently has a mix of 15 full and part-time employees, has raised just over $1.5 million in angel funding to date and is in the midst of a follow-on $1.5 million angel round. Current investors include Baltimore Angels and investors tied to the medical and grocery retailing industries, said Laura.

Currently, the team works remotely and headquarters remain in the Moores home in Green Spring Valley near Stevenson in Baltimore County. This new round of funding will likely lead to office space, in or near Baltimore, said Charlie.

DinnerTime’s Vice President of IT, Doug Lay, said the web app is hosted both by AWS and Linode and built using open-source development tools, including Ruby on Rails and Django.

Watch Laura present at the January 2013 TechBreakfast below.

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Ken Berlack

Ken Berlack is a marketing consultant and contributor to Technical.ly Baltimore. Previously, he managed marketing programs at Virginia-based Ellucian and Kansas-based Perceptive Software. Berlack lives in Ellicott City, Md.

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