Epicured expanding footprint, exploring Tennessee as site for a “healing foods facility”
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Richard Bennett describes Epicured as “a healthcare company whose mission is to translate scientific research into delicious food that has the power to heal and improve healthcare delivery.”
The New York City-based Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the start-up brings a diverse background to the enterprise that is exploring the possibility of building a prep and distribution facility in Tennessee as it expands its footprint, thanks to a connection with Heath Guinn of the Sync Space Entrepreneur Center.
“I’m not a chef,” Bennett emphasizes at the start of our interview. Rather, his background is in investment banking (nearly four years with the Bank of Tokyo – Mitsubishi UFJ) and healthcare (more than seven years with Northwell Health including serving as Co-Founder and Managing Director of Vivo Health Inc. and North Shore Health Enterprises).
“I love healthcare,” he says, adding, “It touches every facet of the economy and our lives. The biggest healthcare decision we make every day is the food we put in our body. There’s a massive, missed opportunity in not aligning traditional healthcare with evidence-based nutrition.” To underscore that point, Bennett notes that healthcare is nearly 20 percent of our gross domestic product, yet “we spend almost nothing focused on preventing or managing disease through nutrition.”
The Co-Founder and CEO’s plan is to change that picture and, as he says, “Bring the best of the clinical world together with the best of the culinary world to treat the whole person. Our focus is to build life-long relationships with both consumers and clinicians so we can intervene on a daily basis, every time you eat.”
So, how is Epicured addressing that challenge and opportunity?
The company is structured as a subscription meal delivery service focused on supporting specific chronic diseases. Currently, the Epicured’s prepared foods are tailored for people living with chronic gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s, colitis, small intestine bacterial overgrowth, celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Every meal is low FODMAP and gluten-free, and clinically proven to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of these diseases up to 86 percent of the time according to peer-reviewed research.
For those who are not familiar with the term FODMAP, it stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols” which are short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that the small intestine absorbs poorly. According to The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine website, more than 15 percent of the U.S. population experiences digestive distress after eating them.
The solution that Epicured offers is a selection of more than 50 low FODMAP and gluten-free prepared foods (see menu here) that are fresh, seasonal, and prepared by Michelin-starred chefs. All are shipped to the customer’s desired location and arrive ready to eat.
“I spend a lot of time promoting the role of the registered dietitian in healthcare while also trying to get more chefs interested in this type of “translational” work,” Bennett explains. “Diet can reverse disease, but the food can’t taste like cardboard. We are bringing a first-class food experience while helping to manage chronic disease in America.”
Epicured shipped its first box of food in July 2016. “We’ve had healthy growth and are launching a Series B round,” Bennett says. While the company ships nationwide, much of its customer base has been in the Northeastern U.S., and the Volunteer State is an attractive opportunity for the company as it expands its capacity. That fact is underscored by the fact that 70 percent of the U.S. population makes it an ideal location for what Bennett labels a new “healing foods facility.”
Other factors at play include Tennessee’s robust healthcare sector, particularly in Nashville; logistics – FedEx in Memphis and a growing logistics industry sector in Chattanooga; innovation hotspots in the major cities; a strong agricultural and manufacturing base; and the business-friendly state rules and regulations.
Epicured’s growth strategy includes increasing its direct-to-consumer (“self-pay”) sales as well as distribution partnerships with health systems and payors (Mount Sinai Health System is a clinical partner and investor), additional distribution channels such as its presence in the Manhattan stores of Amazon Go, and expansion to serve other therapeutic areas like cardiac, renal, and diabetes.
“Eighty percent of our menu is appropriate for those with diabetes, and 50 percent is chronic kidney disease friendly. We are just beginning to develop impactful solutions of patients and clinicians alike,” Bennett says.