“75-80% of women change their diet when they find out they are pregnant. There is so much information out there now about how what you eat could affect your baby, and everyone is giving you advice about what you should and shouldn’t eat, so the pressure is really on.
“But for a lot of women it’s also a time when they are tired, nauseous, and stressed because they are trying to hold down a job and deal with the pregnancy,” adds Yashchin, who offers prepared meals built around the specific nutritional needs of women trying to conceive, pregnant women, women in the postpartum recovery phase [12 weeks after birth] and breastfeeding women.
“I surveyed a lot of Moms before I started the business and what I found was a lot of anxiety and a desire for an easy solution,” adds Yashchin, who acknowledges that pregnant/breastfeeding women could opt for a cheaper meal delivery service such as Blue Apron, but says her meals have been specifically formulated with their needs in mind.
As for customer acquisition, Barley + Oats probably has an easier time of it than many rivals in the burgeoning B2C food space as its audience is both clearly defined and actively looking for information and products, says Yashchin, who says targeting key influencers online can also be an extremely effective way to reach this audience.
"There are so many pregnancy and parenting publications, events, companies and stores out there which are targeting this audience that we can partner with. We can also do very specific targeting on facebook around keywords like pregnancy, postpartum and so on"
Barley + Oats customers can choose from a menu of wheat-dairy-, and soy-free items covering everything from ‘oatmeal lactation cookies’ to probiotic kale lemon caesar salad with wild-reared salmon and Nori strips, almond parmesan and capers, says Yashchin.
All of the dishes - created in conjunction with nutritionists - are built around foods that naturally contain ingredients associated with maternal health and fetal development, from choline and folate to fish oil, as well as ingredients claimed to promote milk production, such as fenugreek.
The longer-term challenge, of course, is customer retention, a critical metric for any business to consumer (B2C) subscription-based service.
So what happens to subscribers once they have stopped breastfeeding? Will Barley + Oats lose all its hard-earned customers and spend all of its resources trying to bring in the next wave of new subscribers to replace the ones that will inevitably move on?
Given that the business is still in the beta phase in Manhattan and the surrounding areas, it’s not a problem Yashchin is currently grappling with, but she recognizes that it’s a key question investors will have about the business when she pitches to them on demo day on June 2 (Barley + Oats is in the 2016 cohort of the Food-X accelerator).
“When we first launched, we were specifically focused on post-partum breastfeeding, but that was too niche, so we expanded to fertility and pregnancy.
“Longer term we want to grow with our customers, stay with them through pregnancy and the first two years and then our ultimate goal is to create a broader business that supports healthy families, so we want to expand into early childhood, baby food, snacks and healthy school snacks and lunches.”
The business model
So does the business model of Barley + Oats – which fulfills orders at the Hot Bread Kitchen incubator in East Harlem and delivers to subscribers on Monday evenings – add up?
The economics don’t make sense if you are only delivering one dish at a time, acknowledges Yashchin, but the equation changes once you bundle meals together into packages, while the premium nature of the service means that you don’t need millions of subscribers to start generating sizeable revenues.
Affluent Moms only?
But will its high prices ($300 for 15 meals/week, $250 for 10, $125 for five) mean that Barley + Oats will only have niche appeal, or are there enough time poor but affluent Moms out there to build a sizeable business?
Yashchin is optimistic: “Investors we've spoken to like the fact that we are differentiated, and we’re targeting customers – Millennial Moms - that are underserved, rather than everyone; they also like the fact that we’re also building recipes around micronutrients, so ultimately we could expand beyond Moms.”
As for the price, she says, greater scale will bring costs down, but Barley + Oats will always be a premium service: “We’re using very high quality ingredients from organic grass-fed meat, mostly organic grains and vegetables, so there is a cost attached to that, but we will look at lower-cost product lines in order to bring in a wider audience over time.”