It’s hard to get amped about the food options inside an office building. Unless you work for a Google-like company and get subsidized or free meals, you’re probably stuck with vending machines. And we all know Fig Newtons do not a healthy lunch make.
Byte Foods, founded in 2015 by husband-wife team Lee and Megan Mokri, is trying to introduce a new option to the office food mix. Their company supplies offices with smart fridges full of fresh, healthy food options from local producers, like coffee from Blue Bottle and falafel snack packs from Sinbad Specialty Foods.
To use the fridges, employees simply swipe a credit card and pick what they want. A receipt for each purchase is sent to their email address. Each food item has a disposable RFID tag on the bottom, which Byte supplies to their producers. Before and after the fridge door opens, Byte scans the tag to determine what the employee took, then charges them accordingly. Each fridge also features a screen with nutrition and dietary information as well as prices. “It’s basically a really high quality food court in the office,” Lee Mokri told me over the phone. A food court that knows exactly what kind of kombucha you like.
Byte’s model is full service: they provide the fridge, stock it every day, and take any unsold food away at the end of the day to donate to various shelters. All their corporate clients have to do is pay a monthly service fee. This makes things super convenient for employers who want to provide fresh, healthy food options for their workers, but puts a lot of pressure on the Byte team—if no one wants a ham sandwich, Byte ends up paying for all the leftover ones at the end of the day.
For this reason, Byte relies heavily on data to optimize what they put on offer. “We have pretty robust demand-planning algorithms deciding exactly what we want to put in the fridge every day,” said Mokri. “That’s something that sets us apart from a catering company.” This custom curation smacks of a few other stories we’ve covered on The Spoon, such as Amazon‘s predictive meal ordering and dishq’s AI-powered food recommendations.
Much like Uber, Byte uses dynamic pricing to help push food off the shelves. For example, if a batch of Blue Bottle coffees is about to expire they can discount it to encourage sales. Byte can also hand this power off to their corporate clients, giving them the power to subsidize their employees meals. For example, Tesla, a client, discounts all food in their Byte fridges by 30 percent after 6 p.m., to support their teams burning the midnight oil. Dynamic pricing is currently managed by human employees, but Mokri says they “have a very clear path” for how to automate it.
Byte has also begun licensing their fridges and technology to companies across the country. These partners have access to the Byte dashboard, but can brand the fridges however they like and even fill them with their own food products. Mokri says this is an ideal model for place like hospitals and universities, who have a lot of people to feed but already do their own food production. Basically, their clients are paying for a simplified interface as well as a tool to help track customer food preferences.
The San Rafael-based company isn’t the only one working on improving grab-and-go food options. Chicago’s Farmer’s Fridge and French Foodles are also offering turnkey fridges stocked with freshly prepared meals, and electronics giant Panasonic is even getting in on the action with an IoT-enabled food ordering ecosystem Bento @ Your Office.
This rush to shake up the office dining routine makes sense: the vending market closed 2016 with a seven-year high of $21.6 billion. That means a big opportunity for those players looking to usurp the vending machine. At the same time, there’s a growing consumer demand for healthier food options.
Byte has branched into 500 locations in the San Francisco area and has raised a total of $10 million, according to Mokri. He said that they’re adding about 50 new clients per month. So next time you go to punch in C5 and get a “healthy” snack of Sunchips, you might be able to get something that’s actually healthy, instead.