One day in 2015, Mary Biggins was strolling around Wholefoods and looked at the quantities of food it was serving. She wondered: What if her favourite pie restaurant could do the same, but at scale? And with that, the idea for MealPal was born.
The startup, which launches in London this week, provides a lunch subscription service. And it has an unusual business model.
The service costs £4.79 per meal on a 12-meal plan or £4.39 per meal on a 20-meal plan. While Deliveroo and UberEATS focus on delivery, MealPal looks to change consumer behaviour by forcing them to plan ahead and order their lunch the day before.
It only allows users to pick one dish from each restaurant, and there’s no room for customisation. It is pick-up only – but consumers can jump to the front of the queue.
Nevertheless, Biggins is convinced that customers quickly get used to this unfamiliar format. The business was founded in Miami in January 2016, and has since expanded to Boston, New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco. London is the first city that MealPal has launched in outside the US.
So far, it has signed up around 125 restaurant partners in London. To build the business in the UK, the company is predominantly focused on referral based marketing and direct marketing on social platforms.
If you’re going to use UberEATS, you’re going to probably be paying £12 for your meal. It makes you feel bad for spending that much money. We make it affordable.
Mary Biggins, MealPal
“We really believe people have to experience it, so they realise it can be a very good fit for them. Our biggest initial marketing cost is letting people try it for free, but it’s an extremely powerful channel for us as it offers people a great experience,” she tells Marketing Week.
When questioned on how the brand can stand out in such a saturated market place, Biggins insists that competitors such as UberEATS simply “aren’t affordable or accessible” as an every day option.
“If you’re going to use UberEATS, you’re going to probably be paying £12 for your meal. It makes you feel bad for spending that much money. We make it affordable by offering terrific meals for under £5. It’s also pretty good to get up you’re from desk and get out of the office,” she explains.
MealPal also looks to take the “anxiety” out of lunch by using artificial intelligence (AI), which recommends meals depending on people’s preferences.
“Having too much choice can lead to anxiety. We use AI so that when someone signs up, they can answer questions about their food preferences and based off that, we know what meals they’d rate favourably. It’s again about delivering the best possible consumer experience,” she concludes.