The healthy snack box subscription startup with a twist just raised $1.4 million in funding.
By Betsy Mikel (Editor, Women 2.0)
For a short time, founding an online subscription box startup seemed like the ticket to success. Some succeeded (Birchbox is now valued at $485 million.) Others -- many, many others -- failed.
Why does this business model seem to work for some and not for others? Because it has to be more about than what’s inside the box. Love with Food is poised to be a subscription box success because founder Aihui Ong’s vision includes not just a passion for healthy food, but also bakes in listening to customer feedback, big data insights and social good.
How Aihui Ong Arrived at Love With Food
Aihui Ong was a software engineer consultant, but the work had burned her out. She had lost her love for technology. At the age when other women move to executive leadership and have children, Aihui quit her job with no real plan for her future other than to backpack around the world for a year.
“My taste buds rejoiced with gelato in Italy,” Aihui wrote about her travels. “My nostrils were filled with the aroma of exotic spices sold in Istanbul’s Spice Market.”
At the same time, she was struck by how many people lived in poverty with no clean water or food.
She ended back in the United States helping a friend sell her all-natural stir-fry sauce at a farmer’s market. That’s where Aihu’s wheels started spinning about a food-centric startup. She noticed a few problems with the existing market. Small food vendors struggled with both distribution and collecting customer feedback. They had passion for their products, and the food was good. But they needed help marketing and getting their food into the mouths of the right people.
Why Love With Food is Different
In 2011, Aihui founded Love With Food. At the very basic level, the company offers subscription boxes of healthy food that start at $10 a month. All snacks are either organic or all-natural and are free of MSG, high-fructose corn syrup, trans fat and artificial colorings and flavorings.
But there’s a lot more happening behind the scenes.
Aihui also baked big data insights into her business model. Brands who have products in Love With Food boxes can use those analytics to learn about what’s working and what’s not working with their packaging, taste, texture and more.
“Not only is our platform is a great marketing tool, but we also offer an efficient way to collect data on consumer insights,” Aihui told Women 2.0. “We send out samples for the brands, then collect taste feedback from our tasters. It’s more cost-effective than traditional focus group.” This data also helps Love With Food learn what each customer likes so they can better tailor the samples in each box to individual tastes.
Love With Food also has a social good component. For every box they mail, the company donates a meal to a hungry child. Partners include the Feeding America Network and Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign. On its website, Love With Food keeps a tally of donated meals, which is up to almost 260,000.
What’s Next for Love With Food
A graduate of 500 Startups February 2012 class, Love With Food raised over $600,000 to grow the business two years ago. Last month, they recently announced a $1.4 million round of funding to help grow their team and expand the consumer insight part of their business. That brings the total amount raised to just over $2 million.
Love With Food will soon launch even more targeted groups of boxes such as gluten-free boxes (coming in August), savory boxes and sweet boxes. “We want to cater to our members’ dietary and taste preference, yet keep the element of surprise that many of our members love,” Aihui told us.
As Love With Food has grown -- three years after launch, Aihui’s team is up to 15 -- so has the love of its community. With fans who post photos of the month’s new boxes on Instagram, unboxing videos on YouTube and share the love on Facebook and Twitter, Love With Food has the type of engaged and organic community that any brand craves.
“My vision since the beginning is the make it easy to connect consumers and brands and make healthy eating accessible to anyone,” Aihui says.
We are excited to watch Aihui grow. Women 2.0 has had the pleasure of working with her over the years. Aihui volunteered her time to manage the Women 2.0 PITCH Competition where she worked directly with our community of investors and applicants of early stage startups. Aihui can truly juggle it all!
What subscription box services do you love?
About the author: Betsy Mikel is the managing editor of Women 2.0 and runs the content consultancy Aveck. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and a lifelong obsession with French language and culture. When she's not biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria, you can find Betsy on Twitter at @betsym.