Editor's note: In the Start Me Up series, the Kellogg School spotlights younger members of the Kellogg community who are bringing bold entrepreneurial visions to life.
Jen Moore '04
It’s a familiar scenario: You get home from work — starving, tired and wondering what’s for dinner. Do you cook? Or do you order takeout?
Jen Moore ’04 wants you to choose the former. And her company, Meez Meals
, is making the process a whole lot easier.
Founded in 2010, Meez Meals is an Evanston-based service that delivers prepped ingredients and simple recipes for making quick, tasty meals at home. Its name comes from the French phrase “mise en place,” a culinary term for ingredients that have been prepped and organized for cooking.
Each week, customers choose from an ever-changing menu of meatless meals, such as Arugula Pesto Orecchiette, Tacos Provençal and Spinach Pancakes with Basil Corn Relish, and select the number of servings. The following Monday, they get a cooler delivered to their door with all the ingredients pre-chopped and portioned, along with step-by-step instructions for making the dishes in 30 minutes or less.
Cooking up a solution
As a Kellogg student, Moore knew that she eventually wanted to start her own company, but didn’t know what it would be. She studied brand management “because it would give me the experience of running all aspects of a business, owning a P&L, managing cross-functional teams and all those other wonderful things,” she says. “That path turned out to be a great one, giving me the experience I needed to launch my own business.”
Moore came up with the idea for Meez Meals in 2009, while she was still working as a brand manger for Unilever. She noticed that her sister, a working mom, found the process of making dinner stressful, even though she used to love cooking. “She said that she just wanted someone to cut everything up for her,” Moore recalls. “And I said, ‘Well, gee, that’s an idea. I can do that.’”
The timing turned out to be perfect: When Meez Meals launched, it was the only company offering a DIY meal kit. Moore knew, however, that “it was only a matter of time until national companies entered the market.”
To prepare for the competition, she focused on creating a company that would appeal to a niche market — one that customized meals for individual preferences, offered creative, nontraditional recipes, reused its delivery containers and maintained a green footprint. “My marketing classes with Professor [Tim] Calkins stressed the importance of knowing your strengths and not attempting to chase every opportunity, which was top of mind as I was developing my strategy for Meez,” Moore recalls.
Moore’s instincts were right, as Meez has experienced double-digit growth in each of the past four years, and now boasts nearly 3,500 members. To date, the company has delivered more than 200,000 meals.
And while the national competition has arrived, “they are less similar than I expected,” Moore says. “Our points of differentiation remain strong and Meez has retained its market in the face of national growth.”
For now, at least, the company is firmly rooted in the Chicago area, delivering to a 1,000-square-mile radius and sourcing ingredients locally. For example, the company gets its pizza dough from Bennison’s Bakery in Evanston; its gourmet tofu comes from Phoenix Bean in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. The company also sources ingredients from Woodland Foods in Waukegan.
Most items (particularly produce) arrive at the Evanston-based kitchen on Saturday morning. A team works through Sunday night to prepare and package the ingredients. By Monday, a delivery service picks up the kits and drops them at customers’ homes during the afternoon and evening hours.
About 80 percent of Meez customers are “people who are developing families,” such as couples with young children, says Moore. The other 20 percent are retirees, empty nesters and people who live on their own.
The one-serving meals aren’t a great margin item for Meez, “but it was really important to me to have them because so many people living alone don’t cook,” Moore says. “When I worked at Barilla, I was in so many focus groups where I heard women say, ‘It’s just not worth it to cook for myself.’ It broke my heart. So we offer the one serving to make cooking worth it.”
You, too, can cook
Broadly, Moore’s mission is to make cooking fun and accessible, a lesson that she learned as a child. Starting in third grade, Moore and her sister were tasked with cooking dinner for the family every Sunday night. Moore has fond memories of poring over cookbooks, trying new dishes and watching her parents swoon over her creations.
“My mom had a philosophy that anyone who can read can cook,” she says. “As long as you follow the instructions, that’s all you need to do.”
With Moore’s company, that’s all it takes.
Read more in the Start Me Up series: