Students start meal kit service to reduce food waste

Dillon Matthew | Daily Trojan

Over the summer, two USC students launched a start-up meal kit service called Nom Noms, with the purpose of reducing food waste.

Madison Eckert, a senior majoring in political science, and Andrew Ullmann, a recent graduate, founded the meal kit company on the tenets of affordability and sustainability.

“It’s a combination of a company called Imperfect Produce, which takes ugly fruits and vegetables and sells it at a discounted rate, and Blue Apron,” Eckert said. “Essentially we’re providing really delicious and healthy meal kits that are professional-level recipes that can be made in about 20 to 30 minutes, but at a price point that’s actually reasonable for students and for young professionals or for low-income families.”

The meal kits sell for $4.99 a serving, which, according to Eckert, is about half the price of most other meal kits in the industry.

In addition to being reasonably priced, the meal kits are net positive for the environment due to their use of imperfect produce, Ullmann said.

“We take as much as we can … from imperfect and overstocked produce,” Ullmann said. “Instead of throwing [imperfect produce] away, they give them to us. They’re brand new, fresh, usually organic and we’re able to use those in our meal kits.”

In addition to its affordability, the packaging of the meal kits is completely compostable, and Eckert and Ullmann encourage customers to directly return their packaging.

Eckert said the two started off their venture with the idea of providing meals to students after restaurants had closed, using their surplus ingredients from that day. Originally, they planned to pick up leftover food at the end of a business day from local vendors and sell them to students for half the price. However, their business model changed after they spoke with a professor.

“I had a conversation with one of my professors who asked me, ‘If you’re all about reducing food waste, is it really beneficial to the world to just be saving five sandwiches or is it to be saving 15,000 tons of food from just one supplier alone?’” Eckert said.

After receiving that advice, Ullmann made a call to Amy’s Kitchen, and the two were shocked when the kitchen called back right away with an interest in working together.

Currently, Eckert and Ullmann are working on expanding the company, which is serving the USC community currently.

“Right now we’re figuring out how to work with distributors, farmers and nonprofits to take out as much food waste as we possibly can and get it in the hands of students, young professionals and low-income families,” Eckert said.

Their current plan is to expand to UCLA and Loyola Marymount University by the end of the calendar year and then move on to San Francisco, followed by the entire West Coast, and begin business on the East Coast next year.

“It’s a lot to do, but we’re pretty confident about it, and most of that is because the distributors are really happy to work with us,” Ullmann said.

Nom Noms is trying to expand into food deserts in an effort to increase the kit’s accessibility.

Although Eckert and Ullmann agree that they’ve experienced many easy successes, their biggest challenge has been managing the company by themselves. The two actually work hands-on to pack the meal kits themselves and are in the process of finding investors.

“It’s just the normal issues of a growing start up that doesn’t necessarily have the capital to do what we need to do,” Eckert said.

Eckert and Ullmann said they have received an overwhelmingly positive response from everyone they have talked to about the company and are confident it will succeed.

“We’re only at USC right now, mostly because we don’t have the capacity personally to expand quite yet,” Eckert said.

Ullmann and Eckert are optimistic about the future of the company, especially since they are crafting meal kits for their own demographic and are able to understand the needs and wants of their target customers.

“I don’t think I’ve met a person yet who’s doubtful that this is going to succeed — it’s just a matter of doing it,” Eckert said.