Everytable, Bringing healthy food to every neighborhood

Partner Ben Lerer talks about LHV’s investment in Everytable, the startup focussed on providing healthy food for everyone.

Over the past year alone, Lerer Hippeau has made about a dozen food-related investments, and not just because it’s another space that’s “ripe for disruption.” Right now, we’re seeing a tremendous shift in the way we, as a nation, view food, and it’s something that affects all of us. The more outspoken people like Michael Pollan are and the more widespread documentaries like Fed Up and Food Inc. have become, the more we’ve seen a tectonic shift away from heavily processed foods and additives. Major corporations are changing policies because of it. Look at General Mills; they’re getting rid of artificial colors, artificial flavors, and high fructose corn syrup, and they have plans to eliminate them from all their cereals by 2017. McDonald’s is moving towards cage-free eggs by 2025, and has inspired companies like Nestle, Wendy’s, and Starbucks to start down the same path. People are demanding a return to simple, real, quality ingredients and food that’s actually fresh and nutritious, and Everytable is taking that idea and running with it.

EveryTable was founded by Sam Polk and David Foster, and it’s a new retail concept around fast-casual, healthy, quick-serve, cost-effective food. It’s rolling out in Los Angeles, and here’s how it works: delicious, good-for-you meals are produced in a central commissary kitchen and distributed to storefronts across the city. And when I say “across the city,” I mean they’re going beyond the traditional neighborhoods where you would expect to find a Pret A Manger or a Sweetgreen and offering wholesome meals to underserved communities. So, while Everytable will be available in affluent neighborhoods, it will also be offered at a much lower price point in communities that traditionally only have access to fast food. And by introducing prices that scale accordingly by neighborhood, high-income communities can help support low-income communities, and everyone can get good food at a price that makes sense for them.

Sam and David are incredibly passionate about the healthy food mission, and they started working together through Groceryships, the not-for-profit Sam founded. If you look at the data around the spread of type 2 diabetes and obesity in food deserts, it’s heartbreaking, especially since these nutrition-related diseases are often largely avoidable. That’s why, for the last several years, Groceryships has worked to help families living in food deserts get themselves and their families healthy food, through a program that includes nutrition education, healthy cooking lessons, emotional support groups, and weekly deliveries of fresh produce. Everytable is essentially taking up this mantle and building a business around it. And as a natural extension of having a mission this necessary and inspiring, Sam and David are building a brand that really stands for something. It’s a brand people can get behind and talk about and can feel good about being a part of. It’s something I personally feel very close to, because for the past five years, I’ve been the chairman of the board of an organization called Urban Upbound that provides services to people in some of the largest public housing communities in America. The goal is to help members of these communities — areas where the only financial institution is usually a check-cashing outfit — build wealth and thrive through financial fitness training, workforce development training, tax prep services, and college access programs. The concept is “giving a hand up, not a hand out,” and I’ve seen firsthand the impact Urban Upbound has made towards helping people break from cycles of poverty in these communities. There’s a very similar philosophy at Everytable, and it’s impossible to talk about it without getting passionate because of all the good it can do.

At the same time, I’ll admit that Everytable is an atypical investment for us; it’s a physical retailer and not a digital brand. Still, Sam and David are using data and tech to drive decision making around efficiency and logistics, and the way they’re thinking about building their brand is incredibly thoughtful and forward-looking. I believe they’re using a lot of the same tactics as other companies that we’ve been successful with.

I’ll also admit that we did more work on and spent more time on Everytable than our average deal; I can’t think of the last time so many LHV people had so many meetings with a company, and there was definite internal skepticism when we started. But when each subsequent team member met Sam and David, they could see their obvious passion and their genuine desire to make positive, lasting change. And one by one, everyone at LHV enrolled in the concept because of the strength of the idea and the strength of Sam and David’s convictions. I mean, you see what Everytable can represent: you see how reporters enroll in it with this incredible amount of earned media, and I believe you’ll see investors enroll in this, and you’ll see Sam and David be able to raise the capital necessary to grow fast. And down the line, I believe you’ll see strategics look at them and think that this is the company that stands for the kinds of things that they know are important to their customers. We feel that there are real social and financial benefits to building a company that firmly has its heart in the right place and is able to communicate that heart clearly.

Since Everytable launched, we’ve been happy to see Sam and David execute on their predictions. They’ve had more foot traffic and more sales than their early model had expected. Earned media is overwhelmingly positive. It’s great to see an investment where you make a prediction and it gets validated so quickly. And if this really works? It’s a complete gamechanger. It’s a domino effect. One small thing can inspire thousands of people, and that’s what we’re betting on.

Read more about the rest of the LHV team, and check out other Lerer Hippeau investments.