KitchenMate is a Toronto-based startup promising businesses a fresh approach to feeding their employees.
The startup has raised $3.5 million in seed funding led by Eniac Ventures and Golden Ventures, with participation from FJ Labs and Techstars. It’s also expanding into the United States.
Founder and CEO Yang Yu said KitchenMate was founded with the goal of providing “healthy meals at an affordable cost.” The solution he and his team developed combines refrigerated, tamper-proof “smart meal-pods” containing fresh, prepared meals that are then heated in a “smart cooker.”
You might think a pandemic is the wrong time for this idea, since so many companies are still working from home. And Yu acknowledged that some of KitchenMate’s most likely customers (such as tech companies) don’t need the product right now.
At the same time, he said there are many “old-school companies” in industries like manufacturing, distribution and essential services that can’t operate that way — and in those sectors, business is “booming.”
“[Before the pandemic,] it was a nice-to-have for a lot of companies that care about employees and want to offer them a healthy meal,” he said. “It’s become a must-have for a lot of companies now that everything is closed.”
In other words, Yu said that with many restaurants and other businesses shuttered by the pandemic, KitchenMate has emerged for some employers as “the only option.” He also said it’s being used by hospitals as an efficient way to prepare healthy meals for patients.
Without a KitchenMate Smart Cooker at home, I can’t vouch for the quality of the food, but Yu showed me how he prepared a meal in the KitchenMate office: He opened the refrigerator, removed a Smart Meal-Pod and scanned it with his phone, then loaded the Meal-Pod into the cooker. A few minutes later, a tasty-looking lunch of rice, curry, vegetables and tofu was ready for him.
KitchenMate offers the equipment for sale or rent to employers. The meals are then purchased by employees via smartphone app at an average cost of $9, usually with employees paying $7 and employers subsidizing the rest.
KitchenMate delivers new Meal-Pods once or twice a week, and teams can influence what gets delivered by voting on the dishes that they want. The startup also offers an option where staff members can prepare the meals for employees, rather than having everyone raid the refrigerator and making meals for themselves.
Yu suggested that as offices reopen, people will want to avoid crowded cafeterias, and they’ll choose KitchenMate’s bulk deliveries over having lots of individual deliveries going in and out of buildings and elevators.
Yu acknowledged that there is a risk of a “backlog” in the kitchen if everyone wants their lunch at the same time, but he said KitchenMate tries to alleviate this issue by allowing people to pre-order their meals in the app.
“We create more flexibility around people eating for a lot of companies who either can’t afford catering or, post-COVID, it’s just not possible anymore to have shared meals,” he said.
Update, August 28: Since some commenters were asking about what differentiates KitchenMate’s Smart Cooker, Yu asked me to clarify the following points:
- Our meals are cooked from fresh raw ingredients, and we are using steam instead of microwaving.
- Each meal has a different heating profile with automated temperature and moisture control to heat the ingredients to the desired quality.
- We recognize that many people bring food from home to heat up in a microwave, and I think that’s great. But for those times when people don’t have food, we want to provide a more convenient, healthy, and affordable on-site option.