We all purchase pre-packaged dinners that sit in our freezers, waiting to make our workouts harder and our pants tighter. After all, most of what we freeze is high in calories and jammed with fat.
If only healthy alternatives were meant to be frozen.
Luckily, New Haven innovators Zoe Lloyd and Nilofer Ahmed are working to improve food preservation.
Lloyd, a Yale University graduate student, and Ahmed, a May 2016 MBA graduate, met through a networking event at the Yale School of Management’s Entrepreneurship Club. As graduate students, the two noticed the mounting food waste problem in the United States and decided to take action.
As a result, Lloyd and Ahmed created Kitchen Table, a startup providing plant-based meal kits. The kits offer three frozen meals — each with one serving of vegetables, a unique sauce and a plant-based protein. Some of the meals feature spiralized sweet potato noodles, butternut squash noodles, spiced turmeric chickpeas and Asian bean balls.
With food waste recently valued at $165 billion, research by the USDA found that frozen produce has higher levels of nutrients, as vegetables considered “fresh” are often picked before ripe, losing the plants’ nutrient values over long periods of time, Ahmed said.
The startup’s targeted market is consciously healthy people looking for fast meal options instead of takeout or microwavable meals. This fall, their meals will appear in southern Connecticut retail stores and natural food stores at a price of $7 to $7.99. They plan to venture into the Boston market by next summer.
Lloyd and Ahmed are discussing negotiating with a major national chain for a soft launch over the next few months. Depending on sales, the team will explore a larger effort to seek the attention from other national stores.
So far, the Kitchen Table reviews are as good as you would expect. Ten Connecticut retailers are interested in receiving samples and selling the meals in their stores. Many have taste-tested the meals and applauded the quality and taste, Lloyd said.
For now, Lloyd and Ahmed are researching the commercial business and learning about using IQF machines (or freezers, as you know them). As the business plan develops, Kitchen Table will likely add one or two part-time employees to help with manufacturing the kits.
Lloyd and Ahmed are receiving guidance from Adam Muniz, director of Startup Grind New Haven, who connects his Yale counterparts to people in his network. The two regularly visit the monthly Startup Grind New Haven events to network and share ideas with other entrepreneurs.
“The New Haven entrepreneurial community is a tight-knit group that shares information easily and makes connections whenever helpful,” Ahmed said.
Retailers have suggested that the young innovators should bring their meals to in-store demos and focus on perfecting their packaging. They will continue growing their online brand through social media and partnering with food bloggers and chefs to get the word out about their food.