When Firstchop first launched towards the end of 2017, it was at the center of a couple of different trends then sweeping the food tech world. It was a direct to consumer mail order meal kit, kinda, it only provided vacuum-sealed frozen proteins (that were actually quite tasty). Those proteins were meant to be reheated at home with a sous vide machine wand, the hot kitchen device at the time, which Firstchop gave away as part of a customer’s subscription.
My oh my, how a couple of years can change an industry. Meal kits are still around but most of the growth is at retail, not mail order. And the consumer sous vide market has basically collapsed. Chef Steps laid off a bunch of staff before being acquired by Breville, Nomiku shut down, and Anova is expanding beyond sous vide wands and into a new steam oven.
Ajay Narain, Co-Founder of Firstchop told me by phone this week that he saw the the big sous vide collapse coming. “We knew by the end of 2018 that the D2C was dead and the luster of sous vide was gone,” Narain said.
“Sous vide really caught fire and then collapsed,” Narain said. “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 in January of 2019, Firstchop decided to abandon almost everything it started out doing. It was getting out of the direct to consumer business and out of the consumer sous vide game. Firstchop pivoted into refrigerated prepared meals sold through office vending machines. The company added veggies and carbs to its proteins and each meal is re-heated with a microwave.
Narain said that during an initial customer pilot of its new meals at the beginning of 2019, Firstchop sold three times as much product in the first month than it had the entire previous year of selling D2C.
Since that initial test, Firstchop has been developing its products and the company officially launched its menu of meals today, which include Chicken Tikka Masala, Korean Barbecue Beef, Grilled Chicken Breast, and Chicken Chili Verde. The company is in talks to sell its meals through different large foodservice companies that operate vending services for various companies.
Firstchop hasn’t completely abandoned its sous vide roots however. Narain said that the sous vide cooking just moved from the consumer to the back end, and that’s how all of its meals are prepared. “At a manufacturing level, sous vide cooking process on the backend is essential,” Narain said. “It delivers moistnenss and tenderness, and the microwave is like magic.”
What’s almost more impressive is that Firstchop has held on this long just by bootstrapping. While it survived the consumer sous vide implosion, we’ll have to see if this latest pivot will be Firstchop’s last.