When DC’s Wellfound Foods began back in 2013, it started life as a wholesale provider of healthy food options.
But when COVID hit in 2020, the company suddenly found itself with 98% of its wholesale distribution business gone. What was still a running success, though, was the single smart fridge stocked with healthy foods it had created in 2019.
“As cafeterias were closing, people were working more late nights and were more stressed than ever and just wanted to sustain themselves with healthy food,” founder Sarah Frimpong told Technical.ly.
Frimpong saw the necessary pivot and raised $600,000, purchasing 16 more machines and creating what is today a fleet of tech-enabled smart fridges for healthy, quality meals and snacks. Wellfound’s tech-focused fridges — think a tricked-out vending machine — are all outfitted with a touchscreen and connected through the cloud, offering anything from chia puddings and chips to hot meals and desserts. Customers can sort through the available items by dietary preference, type of food they’re looking for (snack, breakfast, dinner, etc.) and build a cart for themselves. Meanwhile, the team can see sales in real time.
Wellfound also partners with a local restaurant or maker every month to create an exclusive dish; January’s is a sweet potato Thai buddha bowl with Vegetable + Butcher. The machines, which are cashless, are also stocked with utensils and bowls so users don’t have to go on the hunt.
“The whole idea is we’re providing you with everything that you need to be able to enjoy the meal that you just purchased,” Frimpong said.
Wellfound targets a few different “verticals” for its machines, including higher education, military, government airports and healthcare. It currently has machines in place at Georgetown and George Mason universities; National Defense University, Army and Marine barracks; the Capitol building and White House; BWI Airport; MedStar at Georgetown; and Children’s National Hospital.
The company also closed a $1.4 million dollar seed round earlier this month, which Frimpong said will get the company to 50 machines out in the field.
“This is a completely different guest experience,” Frimpong said. “You’re interacting with a beautiful, 32-inch touch screen and you’re, frankly, interacting with the user interface that we custom-built back in 2020 to really guide the customer and make it easy for them to pick the meal that meets their dietary preference and then get that meal out of the machine as quickly as possible.”
As part of the new MassLight cohort, which helps non-technical founders with tech expansions, Wellfound is developing a mobile app, to be available on iOS and Android. Frimpong said users will be able to see what’s in stock at the machine near them, reserve items and order with touchless pickup. Frimpong expects the first version of the app to launch in June with additional feature updates in the following months.
On top of the app creation and additional installs, Frimpong said she also intends to expand the 14-person team.
The growth “is going to require bumping up on the operational side,” Frimpong said, “and so our team is just heads-down, ready to work, get our app out, get our the machines out, keep providing these local collaborations and more than anything just continuing to make a really stellar and unique product.”-30-