After graduating from MIT in 2010 with a neuroscience degree, and going on to a health care consulting gig, Christina Bognet found herself without time to eat well. “I was pretty busy and I was consistently coming home to an empty refrigerator and ordering takeout or eating out very often,” says the Pennsylvania native, 25. “When I did go to the grocery store, I would kind of buy a bunch of disjointed items that never really came together over the course of the week as meals. So I thought that it was really backward that with all of the technology that exists today, nothing could automate this process for me.”
A year ago, she stopped consulting and began developing PlateJoy, a Web application that takes users’ dietary preferences and restrictions and creates a customized meal plan, and then delivers all the necessary ingredients with simple instructions on how to prepare breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and desserts. The company partnered with online grocers Whole Foods, Peapod, and Safeway to make the deliveries. Platejoy.com had a soft launch in August as an invite-only site in Boston and San Francisco, quickly hitting capacity. Bognet says the company plans to expand to additional cities by the end of the year. Pricing is currently in beta with users paying a flat rate based on how many meals they order per week and other variables.
Q. You spent most of your life planning to be a doctor and were pre-med at MIT. Why did your plans change?
A. I was always really fascinated by medicine and health care and making people feel better, live happier lives. When I was in college, I read the book [“Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance”] by Atul Gawande and it talked about a lot of the inefficiencies in health care and medicine. I think I realized the limitations of clinical medicine in terms of helping people. I did health care consulting after college and I started to think about treating obesity or making healthy food more accessible while in alignment with dietary restrictions and preferences. It’s not studying proteins or anesthesia, it’s not spending years and years trying to figure out how to cure cancer. It’s just a matter of making healthy food more accessible to people, making it easier for them to do what they already want to do, which is eat healthier meals.
Q. How did you go from there to PlateJoy?
A. For me, meal planning and grocery shopping and figuring out which foods are healthy and learning how to cook in general, it was taking a lot of time to kind of do this. So I thought about what this process will be like for people in the future and I concluded that there’s no way people will continue to aimlessly wander through the grocery store buying disparate ingredients. It wasn’t really meant to turn into a company but I tried to find the solution myself elsewhere, experimented with a few different things and found that nothing really came close to what I wanted. So I was compelled to start the company.
Q. Tell me about customizing recipes for users.
A. We have an awesome team of recipe curators and developers who find the best recipes out there and then tweak them to be tastier, easier to prepare, and of course in line with our users’ preferences. I think of it as what the typical person would do to an average recipe after making it five times and coming up with all the tricks about which ingredients are important, what you can do to save time, how to do it best for your tastes. We do that for you and then transform the recipe so you’re not reading something that’s extremely long and tedious and confusing. Breakfast and lunch can be made in under 10 minutes and dinner in under 30.
Q. How does PlateJoy save users money?
A. We’re building algorithms that work to minimize food waste by basically utilizing ingredients across recipes. We also keep track of what you already have in your kitchen so there’s no need to send you oregano every time you order if you already have it. I think we all have these moments where we stand next to the fridge and start tossing out everything that’s gone bad. Studies show that the average American throws out about 25 percent of what they purchase at the grocery store, which costs households $2,200 a year or $165 billion annually and that’s pretty sad. This is a technical solution to helping people get better at this.
Q. Who do you see using this app?
A. I target-marketed people who want to eat healthfully but are very, very busy and that can span from professionals in urban areas to stay-at-home moms to a 25-year-old CrossFit junkie who wants to eat a Paleo diet but just doesn’t have the time to figure it out. So it does span across a few different types of people. But what they have in common is that they’re busy and it’s difficult for them to spend the necessary time and effort to eat the way they want to.
Interview was condensed and edited. Glenn Yoder can be reached at email@example.com.