Photo: Flickr.

You know that feeling when you wake up craving an omelet only to realize you used the last of your eggs on yesterday’s fried rice? Icebox is a new (very early stage) startup working to make sure you never experience empty fridge disappointment again.

The company uses tech to automate the grocery shopping experience so it can replenish ingredients in your fridge — before you even know you’ll need them. “It’s a pocket-sized smart fridge that uses machine learning for automatic fulfillment,” Icebox co-founder Jazz Singh told me over the phone. The startup was co-founded last October by three Berkeley undergrads who met a Caltech hackathon. Thirty-six hours later, they had made the first version of Icebox.

As of now, Icebox is only a smartphone application. You download the app, then take a picture of your fridge and any recent grocery receipts. Singh told The Spoon that Icebox combines these two pieces of data with an unspecified “couple of other sources,” applies machine learning, and voila — it creates a shopping list. The list is customizable, so you can add extra odds and ends as needed.

As of now, that doesn’t seem super helpful — I can generally remember what i need on my weekly shop off the top of my head. What’s intriguing about Icebox is its potential.

Down the road, Singh told me that Icebox plans to partner with retailers and e-commerce services to offer anticipatory grocery delivery, keeping you stocked on your fridge staples. They’ll also provide users with recipe suggestions based on their grocery haul. “It will be much more streamlined,” said Singh.

There are other companies working in the grocery tracking and replenishment space: Smarter has a fridge cam that allows you to remotely check what groceries you need, Amazon has their Dash button and might be working on a smart fridge, and Pantri (a participant at the SKS Europe Startup Showcase!) is a grocery fulfillment platform. In terms of the recipe component, Chefling takes photos of barcodes and shopping lists to recommend recipes based on the food you have on hand, and Cooklist connects with retailers to generate recipe suggestions based on your recent grocery purchases.

Icebox is still in its very early stages; they’re currently in the midst of preparing for a private beta launch. Singh said they want to make sure that their computer vision is ready for a mass release, and then they’ll focus on partnerships with grocery fulfillment companies like Amazon Prime.

Icebox plans to initially market itself to university campuses as a way for young college-goers to ensure that they, God forbid, never run out of Gatorade or Monster energy drinks.

That seems a bit far-fetched that college kids, who, at least based on my own experience, are far more likely to turn to dining halls, delivery, and fast food for sustenance than actually cook on my illegal dorm room hot plate. But I could see Icebox being a boon to working parents or harried millennials; people who have the motivation to cook but not always the time or headspace to grocery shop.

Singh told me that Icebox plans to position itself as an affordable, modular alternative to smart fridges. Which is, well, smart. Unlike smart fridges, Icebox’s tech isn’t a pricey investment that you’ll have to replace every few years. The company plans to release the shopping list creation service for free, and offer a paid subscription tier which will integrate with e-commerce sites for hands-off grocery delivery. (Once that becomes available, of course.)

Singh didn’t want to disclose exact amounts, but she said that Icebox has funding from campus resources and venture capital funds. The company also recently got accepted to Berkeley Sky Deck: an accelerator fund and incubator which gives funds to early-stage Berkeley startups. We’ll keep you updated on Icebox’s progress — hopefully over spur-of-the-moment omelets.

Leave a Reply