Unless you’re very, very organized, chances are you often are left with odds and ends in the fridge after cooking a week’s worth of meals. More often than not, those odds and ends end up in the trash or compost bin.
A new meal-planning service Ends & Stems wants to prevent those leftovers in the first place by providing curated recipes to help optimize perishable ingredients. The startup launched its web app today. For $12.50 per month ($9.50 if you pay for the whole year at once), users will get an email every Friday morning with three recipes to cook the following week. They then select the number of servings (up to 6) and the app will generate a grocery list which can be printed or saved as well as a “prep ahead” list.
The recipes reduce waste by helping users get the most out of their ingredients so that there are no awkward bits leftover at the end of the week. So, for example, two recipes will each make use of half of a cucumber, or all three recipes will use some green onions. The recipes also make use of oft-discarded parts of ingredients, like carrot tops. There’s also a free part of the site where users can recipe search based on any two ingredients they have in their fridge.
The app itself combines two trends we’re seeing a lot of lately: food waste and curated meal experiences. But perhaps the most interesting part of Ends & Stems is that, unlike many startups who claim to be reinventing cooking through apps and other tech, the company’s founder, Alison Mountford, doesn’t have a tech background. She’s also a solo founder, and has self-funded her company. “It’s a big challenge,” she told me over the phone recently.
However, Mountford knows what it takes to make it as an entrepreneur in the competitive food tech world. After completing culinary school she started a meal delivery business in 2005, back when the entire concept of meal delivery was pretty new. Mountford sold it 10 years later and began working at the much larger (now defunct) meal delivery service Munchery. It was there that she saw the massive amount of waste created by inaccurate produce ordering and wasteful food prep. She launched an Instagram featuring tips on how to cut down on food waste, which was the seed that eventually became Ends & Stems.
To make what’s essentially a one-woman company work, Mountford has to be very strategic about how she invests her resources. For instance, she told me she’s not planning to make a mobile version of the Ends & Stems app because it’s a) expensive, and b) she thinks a responsive website is all she needs. Mountford’s theory is that people typically meal plan from a static place, so there’s not really a need to have it available on-the-go.
She also has to prioritize just how granular Ends & Stems can be in terms of functionality. Users can customize certain aspects of Ends & Stems — like choosing a vegetarian track or opting out of seafood — but Mountford doesn’t offer high levels of personalization à la Innit. This is in part because she doesn’t have the tech abilities to do so, but it’s also intentional. “People don’t want too many choices,” she explained to me.
Ends & Stems isn’t the only one trying to take the guesswork out of meal planning. eMeals, a subscription-based meal planning and shopping service, partnered with publishing powerhouse Meredith Corporation last year. Across the pond, Mucho does something very similar. And in the B2B space, Lighter provides plant-based meal planning services to the healthcare industry and athletes.
Ends & Stems’ food waste angle is a smart way to stand out, and might indeed end up saving users time and money while keeping food out of the landfill. But Mountford is up against bigger, more established competitors with entire tech teams and high-level partners. She could also be hurt by the lack of shoppable recipe capabilities and her resistance to a mobile app, which can help increase consumer engagement.
Competition aside, I’m not sure how big the user potential is for meal planning services in general. In a world filled with the (near) instant satisfaction of food delivery or in-retail meal kits, services that only send you recipes and aggregate shopping lists can seem a little, well, antiquated. Then again, as of now Mountford has so little overhead that I’m guessing she doesn’t need a huge number of users to make the company successful.
As of its launch, Ends & Stems had 100 paying beta users. Time will tell if Mountford’s passion and scrappiness can help grow that number — and also shrink food waste.