What if you could wave your phone over a restaurant menu and see “through” the descriptions, instantly assessing which dishes are best (and worst) for you to eat?
That’s exactly what Bay Area startup Suggestic is working on. When users first open the free app, they set up their goals (lose weight, have more energy) and dietary preferences or restrictions (vegetarian, no dairy, allergic to peanuts). The app then recommends a series of dietary plans to match those preferences and goals, such as Anti-Inflammation or Low-Carb Mediterranean.
After selecting your plan, the app will create weekly meal plans with 3 to 4 recipes per day. “All recipes are found via machine learning,” Suggestic’s co-founder Shai Rozen told me over the phone. In fact, after they started the company four years ago, they spent the first year and a half applying for patents (which are currently pending) around their recipe-curating analytics. For a $100 annual fee, Premium members get access to food recommendations and recipes from selected health influencers. Users can turn their weekly meal plan into a dynamic grocery list, and Rozen said they’re working on making it shoppable.
Suggestic also provides videos and tasks to keep you on-track with your selected health program, a chatbot to guide you through meal and restaurant selection, plus a place for users to log their sleep quality and water intake. Its restaurant feature uses algorithms to analyze menu items at over 500,000 restaurants in the U.S., and will give each dish a score 1-10, depending on how well it’ll fit into your chosen diet. They’re also working on integrating genetic insight with DNA sequencing service Helix.
But the coolest part isn’t what they already offer — it’s what they’re working on. Suggestic is currently beta testing an augmented reality (AR) feature that allows users to point their phone camera at a menu and see color-coded indications of which dishes are best for their diet. “Then you can interact with the menu as if you were RoboCop or Terminator,” said Rozen. As of now, this service is available in 10% of the restaurants Suggestic covers.
It’s a little further out, but Suggestic is also developing tech to integrate AR into their grocery shopping service. So if you pick up a bag of gluten-free crackers and want to see how well it fits into your diet, all you’d have to do is bring out your smartphone and Terminator it.
The startup currently has a staff of around 20. Rozen told me that they have raised “around $3 million” over two funding rounds. The app launched about two months ago and has roughly 20,000 downloads.
AR is starting to pop up in more and more places throughout the food system. Huxley is combining AR, AI and machine learning to help increase indoor agricultural outputs. Big Food companies like Campbell’s are also exploring AR as a way to engage consumers from the grocery store to guided cooking, as is Williams Sonoma. Chinese startup Coohobo is using AR to make the grocery shopping experience easier and more social. App Waygo translates menus around the world into English, complete with pictures. And down the road, virtual reality (VR) in nutrition, cooking, and grocery shopping will be pretty common, too.
At the end of the day, Suggestic might be trying to do too much — they’ve got the buzzwords down (algorithms, AI, etc.), but combining them into a useful tool that can actually enable longterm healthy lifestyle changes will be a big lift.
That said, dining out can be a minefield for people with specialized diets or food restrictions; if Suggestic can nail the augmented reality aspect of their app and expand it to more restaurants, that could have huge benefits for those trying to watch what they eat.