2013-03-04

Co.Exist

Zipongo Knows What You Like To Eat And Creates Personalized Meal Plans

If you’re trying to eat healthy, it can be hard to figure out what to eat, besides another sad night of steamed broccoli. Zipongo will make you custom meals out of what stores near you have in stock.

The modern American supermarket is an overwhelming place even for the most experienced shoppers. And if you’re trying to stick to a diet--say, low-sodium or low-glycemic--good luck. Zipongo, a startup in health tech accelerator Rock Health’s most recent class, has an incredibly ambitious solution for flustered shoppers: a platform that provides personalized meal plans, virtual shopping lists, and discounts on the foods you’re planning to buy.

Here’s how Zipongo’s website works: After joining, you’re immediately ushered to a page filled with deals on items. Foods that are deemed to be healthy are marked as "go" foods (although Hormel pork chops aren’t the first item that comes to mind when I think of healthy foods). Deals can be added to a shopping list that syncs with the mobile app. And if you enter in your supermarket rewards card info, Zipongo can go a step further, offering deals on healthy foods that you actually eat--and giving you cash back for eating those go foods.

Zipongo has partnerships with grocery stores--including Trader Joe’s, Safeway, and Whole Foods--in every zipcode in the U.S. So when you use the platform’s app, it will always offer up deals within a 50 mile radius. For me, those deals include cheap peeled baby carrots, organic oranges, grapefruit, and catfish fillets at Safeway.

The intriguing part of Zipongo comes with its meal plans. Log in to the site right now and you’ll see a generic vegan meal plan for every day for the week (today is a strawberry banana coconut smoothie, apples and peanut butter, quinoa stir fry with pineapple, oranges and almond, and chili-stuffed yellow pepper). That’s not what subscribers see.

Zipongo is currently in the middle of a $5 million funding round; the plan is to offer a range of subscription options for employers and health plans. The company is already piloting its plans with SeaChange Health, a large Silicon Valley Company (CEO Jason Langheier, a physician by training, can’t say more than that), and others.

If you happen to be part of that subscriber network, you’ll get access to a personalization engine that can craft meals based on your dietary wants and needs--that low-sodium or low-glycemic diet, for example. And since it has access to your shopping list history and rewards card data, the platform can pinpoint exactly why your low-sodium diet is currently failing and remedy the problem, perhaps by offering low-sodium soup discounts so that you don’t buy the salty kind you usually prefer. As Langheier explains, the platform is "enabling a passive quantified self look at what you buy and what you eat, totally on an opt-in basis."

A premium version of the subscription plan allows for social health tracking--just integrate your FitBit, Withings, or other digital health tracking device to get even more personalized meal recommendations. In the future, Zipongo plans to integrate genetic data into the platform. "You’ll be able to do different screening panels that exist, take that information, and say, 'Well, it turns out you’re a better processor of fat than carbohydrates; you’re better off being on a low-carb diet’," says Langheier.

In the immediate future, Zipongo’s subscription service will remain available only to organizations that pay the fees. In the future, though, the company plans on launching a consumer subscription service as well.

The jury is still out on how useful the meal planner will be; what’s on the site right now is very basic, but that’s not representative of what Zipongo is able to do. If it fails, Zipongo will be little more than a coupon platform. If it works, the planner will make it easier for users to eat well with foods supplied from their local grocery store.

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