The usual school lunch menu suspects — pizza and chicken nuggets — appeal to some students, but those options may not work for students who are vegetarian or gluten-free. As a result, “the school lunch solution doesn’t really work anymore,” Wise Apple Co-Founder and President Nathan Cooper told PYMNTS in an interview.
To create an alternative for kids with dietary needs, Cooper set out to reinvent the school lunch by offering a kid-focused meal subscription service that accommodates different dietary needs, packaged like a Lunchable. But he wanted to test out the idea before bringing it to market, so he built a splash page with a minimum viable product (MVP) and posted it on a local mom group page on Facebook. He was shocked with the results.
“Optimistically, we were hoping for 10 or 15 responses,” Cooper said. “And we woke up that next morning to 400. That was the first ‘holy cow, there’s something here’ moment.”
After coming to that realization, Cooper got the confirmation he needed to start work in earnest on Wise Apple. The service, which is offered on a subscription and à la carte basis, delivers fresh and prepackaged, kid-focused lunches and snacks to families in the Midwest. To ensure Wise Apple meets the dietary needs of its customers, its menu includes gluten-free and vegetarian options. But it’s not the only company that offers meal subscriptions designed for kids.
The Secret Sauce
While there are other services geared toward providing lunches to kids, such as Yumble, Cooper said the company has the first-to-market advantage. But, more importantly, Wise Apple decided to narrow its focus to two specific types of meals.
“We’ve spent two years building our menu,” Cooper said. “And we’re really focused on the lunch aspect and [the] snacking aspect.”
The company uses unique proprietary packaging, which makes its meals more flexible than some of the offerings already on the market. Each meal is modular, meaning that each of the components — the protein, the vegetable, the sweet — come in separate pods within a tray. As a result, kids can open one pod at a time and save others for later if need be. By comparison, other services usually put all parts of the meal in one container.
To have the meals sent to families at home, Wise Apple offers multiple distribution options. Consumers can have the meals delivered to their doors through couriers such as FedEx — depending on their location. But Wise Apple has also launched its pods in brick-and-mortar stores in Chicago. That venture has been well-received and has introduced families to the concept of a Wise Apple lunch.
“We’re selling the pods individually in these retail stores,” Cooper said. “People are buying a pod or two as [a] snack and coming back and buying the whole lunches.”
The Kid Food Market
Yumble, for example, offers prepared meals for breakfast and dinner — as well as snacks — for kids. The site was live in 26 states on the East Coast as of last year and has plans to expand to the West Coast sometime in the first half of 2018.
HelloFresh’s Co-Founder Dan Treiman, who joined the company in December 2016, helped to officially launch Yumble last summer. Yumble is a subscription-based program that charges a fixed rate meal with options for six meals a week, 12 meals a week or 24 meals a week. In addition to fully cooked meals, each box comes with activity sheets, collectible reward coins and trivia cards.
“It’s very similar to the experience of HelloFresh or Blue Apron, but without any cooking required,” Yumble Co-Founder David Parker said. Yumble does have some competition in the market, including Scrumpt Fresh, a prepared lunch service for kids that’s currently available in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Chicago-based startups Nurture Life along with Wise Apple.
The Road Ahead
For now, Wise Apple distributes its meals in the Midwest — in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa and St. Louis. In the future, Cooper said he might expand the service further east or west if the opportunity arises. But, as of now, “I think there’s a big business to had here in the Midwest,” Cooper said.
As far as marketing is concerned, Cooper said his own customers promote the service and essentially become evangelists for the brand. Still, Cooper wants to gain more brand recognition for Wise Apple and become a part of a family’s routine.
“We want to integrate ourselves in the supply chain of a family and create a trusted brand that families see Wise Apple as, ‘Hey, this is a better-for-you, tasty snack [or] meal lunch option’ … and I think we’re on our way to doing that,” Cooper said.