As the most recent addition to Luvo’s advisory board, Harvard trained physician and Natural Gourmet Institute certified chef Robert Graham is helping the company evaluate and innovate from a medical and culinary perspective recipes that will advance the emerging notion that food is medicine worthy of reimbursement from insurers.
“For instance, we are working with him right now on a vegan reset diet for diabetes, which will be 24 packaged meals that will be sold online as a bundle” starting in the fall that consumers will eat over six weeks to help manage their blood sugar and gut health, Luvo CEO Christine Day told FoodNavigator-USA.
She noted that the meals will be based on medical research that shows a vegan diet can lower followers' A1C levels, which are the long-term blood sugar levels, as well as their short-term blood sugar levels, and also provide the high fiber needed to create a healthy gut that can help control blood sugar levels.
“Food isn’t a substitute for insulin, but we know it can make a difference. So that hopefully someone can use less insulin or help somebody who is in a pre-diabetic situation normalize their blood sugar,” Day said.
Food as medicine is gaining a toehold with insurers
While the idea of using food, and not just drugs, to manage illness may sound like a foreign idea to some, the notion is gaining a toehold in the medical community and among some progressive insurers that are focused on preventive health and general wellness.
“We do see some tests that are going on – particularly in the fruit and vegetable space – in California and Boston that provide basically coupons and discounts and some reimbursement for fruits and vegetables that are being done by the insurance companies and not for profit organizations,” Day said.
To make the leap from reimbursing produce to also covering packaged food, such as Luvo’s frozen meals, will require industry to overcome several hurdles, such as creating clear nutrition standards for medically tailored meals for diabetes, inflammation and other chronic ailments.
“We are seeing the trend happening and we are seeing it happen on a lot of different fronts, and we do see the insurance companies starting to be very interested in this space. So, I think there need to be everyday solutions that need to start showing up at the grocery store, and I think that is where Luvo is leading the charge,” she said.
Luvo is doing this not only through its meal bundles that are sold online, but also by exploring standards for preparing food – such as following the Mediterranean diet standard and ensuring meals have a balance of fiber for gut health, Day said.
Luvo is also working with Graham to create metrics for measuring health outcomes related to using the company’s meal bundles, such as its new vegan reset bundle.
Graham also will represent Luvo at conferences and speaking engagements where he will push forward the idea of food as medicine, using the brand as an example of how CPG can tap into an emerging coverage area, Day said. In addition, he will provide the company with connections at the Harvard School of Public Health and his clinic, where it is possible to test and measure the impact of the company’s meals or health food on chronic disease management.
More bundles on the way
As Luvo works with Graham to put the finishing touches on the vegan reset bundle, it is already offering bundles for pregnant women, new parents and consumers following specialty diets.
Under Luvo’s recently acquired Eat Local brand, the company worked with dietitians to create two bundles for new parents that focus on the nutrition women need during pregnancy and while breast feeding and recovery during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.
“We want to make it easy for parents to start out with proper nutrition for themselves first, so they can take care of their baby right and feel good,” she explained, adding that proper nutrition plays a pivotal role in childhood development.
Under Luvo’s brand, the company will soon launch a keto meal bundle that Days said can help consumers follow the diet in a healthy way.
“So many people butcher keto. So, we think of our line as a healthy keto line because it has healthy omega 3 fats and we make sure you have your vegetables and fiber, because those are the two things that people usually miss when they try to do keto by themselves,” he said.
The diet and bundle are designed for a six to eight week program, at which point Luvo says followers should move over to the Mediterranean diet, which is heavily represented in Luvo’s other products.
And finally, Day said, Luvo will soon launch a line of 12 kid’s meals that will include items such as a reinvented healthy mac & cheese and taco bowls, as well as other favorites.
“The two things that kids eat the most are meatballs and chicken nuggets and so we have reinvented those in a way that parents can feel really good about,” Day said.
She explained the company’s riff on chicken nuggets, which it calls chicken dippers, includes real pieces of chicken with a brown rice wonton that are served with dips and low sodium veggies. The chicken meatballs also include a third of plant protein with the addition of beans and greens that are served with gluten-free brown rice packed with more hidden veggies, she said.
There is still more progress to make
A theme that Luvo carries through all its bundles and products, and which Day says industry as a whole must improve, is offering options that are lower in sugar, lower in sodium, higher in fiber and rich in vegetables and macro- and micro-nutrients.
Even though Luvo and Eat Local are well positioned on these metrics, Day says her brand and industry can still do more, noting, “There is so much we are learning and can still do to use food as a supplement for health outcomes.”