Firstchop has a special place in my food tech journalist heart. I was there when the company first launched back in the Fall of 2017, and today, nearly three years later, I’m writing about its collapse.
Firstchop started its startup life amid the consumer sous vide mini-boomlet from a few years back. Unlike Anova and Chefsteps however, Firstchop gave away its sous vide wand to get you to subscribe to its protein delivery service. The company would send you a box of chef-prepared meats that you just had to heat up in the sous vide bath.
“Sous vide really caught fire and then collapsed,” Firstchop founder Ajay Narain told me earlier this year. “Unrealistic expecations were built around what sous vide could do. People thought it would be great for all of these different use cases, but it has a lot of limitations.”
So Firstchop abandoned that business to pivot to B2B, re-launching to sell prepared microwaveable meals to offices. At first, the switch to B2B was more fruitful for Firstchop. At the time of its official launch, Narain said that Firstchop sold three times as much product in the first month than it had the entire previous year of selling D2C.
In an email exchange this week, Narain said that Firstchop had also set up distribution through KeHE and Vistar (for offices), had brokers and had meeting scheduled with retail buyers at ExpoWest.
However, those good times quickly soured. Firstchop’s new debut was at the end of February, which is right as the pandemic was starting to hit the U.S. ExpoWest was cancelled. “Getting meetings became impossible,” Narain wrote to me in our exchange. “The office vending market absolutely collapsed. Not sure when it will ever recover as people get comfortable permanently or semi-permanently working from home.”
As a result, Firstchop has shut down.
In his email, Narain wrote that he kind of wished he had stayed in the D2C market as other players in that space like Blue Apron have rebounded. Indeed, direct to consumer channels have boomed across the food tech landscape during this pandemic. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and all that.
Like any good entrepreneur, Narain isn’t done with the startup game. He said he’s already working on something new and still in the food tech space. Though he wouldn’t say more, I’m sure I’ll be writing about that when it launches.