The brainchild of Jennifer Chow and Steven Minisini, Chicago-based Nurture Life - launched in 2016 and now operating in 34 states - offers home delivery of fresh, organic, ready-to-eat meals, with separate meal plans for babies, toddlers and kids from six months to 18 years of age.
And the metrics compare very favorably, to, say, meal kit companies targeting adults, Minisini told FoodNavigator-USA.
“The average order frequency in our business is drastically different [ie. higher] than it is for an adult meal kit delivery business, for example.
“On a lifetime value basis for customers that have been with us for 18 months – and this is on a gross revenue basis - it is roughly $2,000, versus a lifetime value for many meal kits that have been around for 18 months of well under a thousand dollars, and it’s because people are using the products differently."
The reason is pretty obvious to anyone that's had kids recently, he notes (spoiler alert - you're going to stay in more). Parents with babies and young kids tend to stay in more in the evenings, and stick to a routine.
“In our segment of the market, families are looking for a solution that works that they can continue to go to, there’s a pain point parents are trying to solve multiple times every week, it’s not something they are doing on a whim,” added Minisini.
Higher average order frequency, lifetime value
Asked about another metric often referenced in this market - customer lifetime value to customer acquisition cost ratio – he said: “We typically track four to one or slightly higher depending on the month.”
He added: “We look at a handful of metrics that are really important for a subscription business, and we have a relatively high average order value and average order frequency."
The fact that Nurture Life has solutions for toddlers and children, meanwhile, also means that it has a distinct advantage over subscription services focusing exclusively on babies, Minisini told FoodNavigator-USA.
“You see other [direct to consumer] companies just in the baby food puree business, but babies will grow out of that product in 6-12 months, so you are losing customers that might love your service if you don’t have follow on products.
“Also, roughly 40% of our customers have more than one child, and if you are a family, you want something that will work for all your kids. We are offering a solution for growing families.”
Nurture Life’s facility in Chicago is peanut-, treenut-, and shellfish-free and its meals are free from artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, partially hydrogenated oil and high fructose corn syrup.
Nurture Life offers multiple weekly plan options, including eight or 14 meals for babies and five or 10 meals for toddlers and kids, with prices ranging from $35 to $119 per week. All meals are cooked and portioned based on the child's age and nutritional needs, with weekly menu rotations.
A week’s worth of chilled, ready to eat meals are delivered straight to users’ homes in an insulated box to maintain freshness.
Meal plans mix classic favorites and more novel dishes
The meals – from chicken bites, mashed yams & french green beans, to mac & cheese with cauliflower- are created by Nurture Life chefs and pediatric dietitians based on USDA's MyPlate guidelines, and offer a wide variety of produce, proteins and grains, said Chow and Minisini, who came up with the idea for Nurture Life after struggling to keep their heads above water when raising their own young children and holding down busy jobs.
“We wanted to feed our son something fresh and wholesome with a shelf life that hadn’t been around for longer than him so we started making his food ourselves," explained Chow. "But it was very time consuming, the planning the prepping, the steam cooking the puree-ing, and we were doing it really late at night and we thought there’s got to be a better way.
“As he got older and was moving onto finger food and toddler foods, we were also trying to make sure that he was exposed to a wide variety of foods and ingredients and spices and textures, and we were thinking how do we expand his palate?
“So in our meal plans, we have tried to strike a balance between offering variety and classic kids’ favorites, those well-loved staple meals that never or rarely change - so for the toddler meals, that would be something like chicken bites with mashed yams and green beans, or a mac and cheese with whole wheat pasta and a ton of cauliflower. But we’re not offering the typical cheesy pizza with no veggies.”
“We have a lot of single moms and military families as well as the dual income working families that probably make up the majority of our users."
Jennifer Chow, co-founder, Nurture Life
Bringing in the culinary experts
While Chow and Minisini had operational, tech and marketing experience that would help them run a direct to consumer business, they hadn’t worked in the food industry before, and began by hiring a VP of culinary operations “with an extensive food background” to help them build a production facility, source ingredients and plan their supply chain.
Next they brought in a pediatric registered dietitian to design meal plans based on babies’ and children’s specific nutritional needs, said Minisini, who said they chose Chicago as their hub as it would enable them to achieve national distribution in the most cost effective way.
There's a shift away from families eating together
For those wondering whether firms should even be developing separate foods for children, it's a fair question, said Chow, who said that while everyone aspires to a Mediterranean-style family meal every night where all household members sit together and share the same healthy foods, the reality is that this is not how most Americans eat, at least during the week.
"There's a shift away from families eating together. Children often tend to eat earlier than the adults, or sometimes later if they are involved in activities after schools or in the evenings, but even though kids are eating separately, they should still have the opportunity to eat fresh healthy meals.
"In fact some of the most frequent feedback we get from parents using our service is how their kids are now eating so much better than they are."