What Are We Doing and Why?

In 4 words: Fixing our food supply

In 8 words: Correcting a market failure in our food system.

In 16 words: Using economic, behavioral and capitalist techniques to ensure the food system primarily benefits the average family.

A Choice Paradox Created by  "Asymmetric" Information!

Boiling it all down there is one simple problem in our food system that plays an outsized role in metabolic disease (e.g obesity) and food. There is an enormous information gap [asymmetric information] between consumers, farmers and the food retailers.

Food retailers think customers want an enormous amount of choice at the store, which has incentivized food manufacturers to invent food products to fill their shelves, which has created a need to market these food inventions.

In response, consumers have become overwhelmed by the choices being marketed causing them average to hate grocery shopping. This is what Barry Swartz coined a Choice Paradox, where too many choices are actually bad.  As a result, consumers default their food-related decisions, which make them more susceptible to marketing and nutrition claims based on pseudoscience.

What has this done to meal planning?

It has actually not done anything to meal planning. Individuals that start with a plan can more easily navigate food marketing and the deluge of choice in a supermarket. These are the people that don’t mind going grocery shopping as they effectively tune out 90% of what’s on the shelves. They also spend less time in the store.

So, why don’t people, especially families, plan dinners at the start of the week as they did 15-20 years ago? One reason may be the rise of households with two working spouses or single parents and the effect that has on the time allocated to dinner. However, a more important factor is at play. An additional choice paradox has emerged from the proliferation of free recipes and diet advice online. People now have to decide from thousands of recipes for the same thing and hundreds of different diets.  Next time you search for a chicken parmesan recipe, notice the subtle angst you feel as you decide “which” chicken parmesan recipe is right for your family. This angst also applies to picking which set of dietary guidelines to follow. Years ago, this level of choice was not available so a delegate at home could sit down on Sunday, quickly plan a set of dinners for the week and then create a shopping list.

As a side note to those thinking “I love browsing and trying new recipes”, you are right that this variety can be great! However, for most people most of the time a healthy, affordable dinner just has to find it’s way to the table and a basic chicken parmesan recipe will do!

So what can we do?

We need to rethink the choices people must make to put food on the table. Today people are making all of the possible choices and applying their family’s preferences at both the recipe level and the ingredient level and repeating this for each dinner choice throughout the week. That represents an enormous cognitive task and is the reason meal kits have taken off at $13 per serving! Remember, $13 doesn’t include the prep. $13 only includes the ingredients and answers, “What’s for dinner”.

With current technology, this process is completely unnecessary. We can both embrace the variety and not overload people with unproductive choices.  An individual should be able to apply their preference to choosing a single dinner/meal plan. They should be able to browse dinner plans just like they browse individual recipes, purchase on and then let an algorithm help pick individual ingredients and even place a grocery order from the best food suppliers. 

The solution to this problem that has enormous societal impact is that really that simple!

  • Step One: Take 5 minutes to pick a dinner plan for the week.
  • Step Two: Let an algorithm help you pick grocery products based on your preferences, which include value judgments and price.

    Step Three: If desired, have your groceries delivered or ready for pickup locally (e.g Peapod, Instacart).

So what’s the holdup?

People have never browsed dinner plans before.  The platform that enables this must be designed and developed. As hard as this may be, it’s definitely simpler than putting a Tesla into orbit (thanks for setting the bar Elon Musk). As big or small as this challenge is, it is the root cause of  $1.13tr+ annual spending on treating metabolic disease and food waste in the US each year! And, MealVista has a plan to fix it. Join Us.

Chris Lee