About 12% of Missouri households were food insecure from 2017 to 2019, According to the Food Research and Action Center. This number has been increasing since the start of the pandemic, according to the Missouri Foundation for Health.
The St. Louis-based startup GiftAMeal utilizes a concept it calls “take a photo to give a meal” to help restaurants market themselves, to combat food insecurity and to boost its own bottom line. GiftAMeal, a for-profit social venture, is currently in partnership with more than 200 restaurants and three local food banks in St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit, and it plans to expand its services to more areas like Kansas City.
As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the survival of many restaurants and exacerbates food insecurity, we visited with Andrew Glantz, GiftAMeal’s founder and CEO, to learn more about his startup and its current efforts.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Missouri Business Alert: Could you first introduce to us how the concept of “take a photo to give a meal” works?
Andrew Glantz: The way the concept works is pretty simple. People just download the free GiftAMeal app on their phone for iPhone or Android. And then all they need to do is take a photo of their order from one of our 200-plus partner restaurants to give a meal to somebody in the community. So it’s totally free for people to do. And this is all funded by restaurants paying us a monthly subscription. So whenever you take a photo of your order from one of these restaurants, whether it’s dine-in or takeout, we make a donation to a local food bank to give a meal to someone in need in the community.
Hear more: Andrew Glantz on the Speaking Startup podcast
MBA: How did the idea come about?
AG: I came up with this idea when I was actually a student at Washington University in St. Louis. I had an internship at a venture capital firm one summer, and I was talking with the other intern about how people discover restaurants and how millennials especially like to make purchases based off their values.
Looking to see how we can drive traffic to restaurants through a socially conscious incentive, I was inspired by companies like TOMS Shoes and Warby Parker with the “buy one, give one” model, and looked to see, “OK, how can we combine that with the incentive to go to one of these restaurants?”
And so I came up with that idea, and started to run it by a couple restaurants, put my savings into it and started the company when I was still a student.
MBA: What are the major achievements that GiftAMeal has made so far?
AG: The biggest one is that we’ve just surpassed over half a million meals provided to those in need in our community. Being a for-profit company able to make that type of impact really helped show me that profits and purpose can be consistent goals, and you can both do well while doing good for the community. So that’s a really big one.
You know, we’ve survived five years as a company. A lot of companies don’t make it that long. So making it to five years, getting over 200 partner restaurants, over 40,000 app users, and over half a million meals are all really exciting milestones.
MBA: How did the COVID-19 impact GiftAMeal?
AG: The pandemic just devastated the restaurant industry. We were right there alongside everybody else in mid-March. And we were trying to think, “OK, what can we best do to support these local restaurants during this really difficult time?” And then also, since we’re so mission driven, we noticed that food insecurity was on the rise at the early stages and still now in the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, in Missouri, it was one in seven children faced daily food insecurity. Now, it’s one in four. That’s really high and is not something that we deem as acceptable. And so we wanted to see what we can do for both the restaurants and for the food insecure.
So we pivoted the business to allow people to take a photo from home of their take-out or delivery orders, where it used to just be for dine-in. We launched a podcast called “Food on the Table” to share the stories of what the restaurants were doing. We published multiple blog articles and promoted in local Facebook groups what restaurants were doing for curbside pickup and takeout and special offerings to drive incremental revenue their way. And we also launched a $5,000 matching donation campaign that we blasted out to our users when we matched up to $5,000 in donations to a local food bank. We were able to raise over $22,000 for children in need through that effort.
Now, from the business perspective, we paused all new sales through June. And so that was really tough to not have any new revenue coming in, because we get money from the restaurants paying the monthly subscription. But we didn’t want to be asking them for money if they were struggling to keep the lights on. And also for our current partner restaurants, we gave the offer to them, if they were struggling, then we would waive their normal monthly subscription.
Through waiving that monthly subscription for the current restaurants and not doing new sales, we had a big decline in revenue. Luckily, a (Paycheck Protection Program) loan that we received ended up helping to cover some of that lost revenue and keep us having all of our team members on board. But it was definitely a hit for the company, and we were more in maintenance mode than growth mode.
But since we started signing up restaurants again in late June, early July, our sales closing rate of signing up a restaurant when we meet with them is actually higher now than it was pre-pandemic. So a silver lining of this terrible crisis that we’re all in is that people are becoming more socially conscious and are looking to support socially conscious businesses.