Let’s face it: Not every company is a Google when it comes to profitability, technology prowess or lunch.
Yep. Google’s food program has become the gold standard in the tech world and beyond for its healthy choices and focus on sustainability, and has played an outsized role over the past decade in raising awareness about how important food is in creating a productive work environment and satisfied employees.
The only problem is not every company has the resources of Google or a food service visionary like Google Food director Michiel Bakker to lead the charge, especially those small to midsize firms where food is sometimes an afterthought.
But now Markov, the company behind the Level smart oven, wants to change all that by providing the food service hoi polloi with a turnkey service that turns their break rooms or kitchenettes into mini-Google cafeterias. The San Francisco startup’s new service, called Hot Pantry, combines the Level smart oven with food delivery that keeps an employer’s fridge (also provided by Markov) stocked with healthy food choices ranging from breakfast items like red flannel hash to mix and match lunch offerings like Tuscan short ribs and kimchi fried rice.
According to Markov CEO Leonard Speiser, the company isn’t building out its own kitchen (unlike consumer-focused Tovala, maker of a smart steam oven), but instead is partnering with food companies to create the various food offerings.
“We took our technology and partnered with the food service industry to provide companies of 30 to 300 employees with a little slice of the Google experience in their own office kitchenette,” Speiser told me via email.
The move into office food service is an interesting one for Markov, which has largely been known to this point for its next-gen smart oven that utilizes a patented cooking technology to steer RF beams within the cooking chamber. But providing a turnkey food offering paired with its oven might just be a smart business move to differentiate itself from the increasingly crowded market of startups looking to reinvent the office cafeteria with fresh and healthy food options.
While the Level oven is an impressive device, I think one of the company’s biggest challenges will be communicating to office managers why an office food service needs something other than a standard microwave oven. Cooking tech nerds like myself can appreciate the uniqueness of a cooking box that can see its food, steer RF signals and heat different foods at different rates and temperatures within the same cooking chamber, but communicating that to an office worker is a different story. This is probably why Markov’s consumer-facing messaging puts a big emphasis on the oven’s interactive front-display touch screen, which provides visually rich information about Hot Pantry’s food offerings, ingredients and nutritional information.
Another key variable that will help determine the success of Hot Pantry is pricing, something the company is not disclosing at this time. While the corporate market is less price-sensitive than the fickle consumer market, oven or no oven, Markov will need to be price competitive with other corporate food service providers.
Today the Hot Pantry is only available in the Bay area, but Markov hopes to expand Hot Pantry eventually to new markets.
“It would be great if all companies could offer Google programs, but most don’t have the scale,” said Speiser. Markov hopes to change that, and the company’s CEO thinks they may even have a leg up on the search giant in one area:
Unlike Google, “the Level Hot Pantry experience is open 24/7,” said Speiser.