Food as Medicine?

Food as Medicine?

I have family members with very different opinions on nutrition. Some of them have incorporated superfoods, such as kale and acai, into their diet and follow a strict regimen. And there are others who refuse to “follow a diet” because: (1) it requires them to give up some of their favorite foods and (2) they don’t always believe in the outcome. As such, I believe it’s important to take a data-driven approach towards healthy eating. People should not only know why certain foods are good for them, but this information should also be customized and actionable, based on each person’s microbiome, health and preferred eating habits. Hopefully, by providing a solution that is backed by science and tracks progress among users, people will come to embrace this idea of food as medicine.

The Problem & Market Opportunity:

About half of the U.S. adult population —117 million people—have chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, autoimmune disorders and various types of heart diseases 1. According to the Archives of Internal Medicine, 40-80% of these conditions can be traced back to our microbiome and are preventable by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle 2­. Microbiomes are a “community of bacteria” that live inside our bodies and are unique to each individual. They’re heavily shaped by the foods we eat and play an important role in keeping us healthy by absorbing nutrients, regulating our immune system and maintaining stable hormone levels. As such, we want a diverse gut flora and in the event that we lack certain microbes, we want personalized diets that give us a balanced composition. Unfortunately, many of us are not equipped with the knowledge of what our body needs and even when we do, we have trouble maintaining that sustenance for the following reasons:

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The Little Big Idea:

Yes, the meal subscription market is extremely saturated. But the problem outlined above is the reason why I believe there’s room for one more meal service that curates recipes based on people’s biomarkers, food preferences and health goals. By understanding each individual’s metabolism, genetics and even how one responds to carbs and protein, meal services like Habit are taking a science-based approach to optimizing nutrition 3, 4. However, a common criticism of these services (and food subscriptions in general) are their lack of flexibility. Imagine telling your family that you would’ve loved to join for Thai food, but instead, have to eat a pre-cooked meal from your fridge. As such, the ideal meal subscription – if it doesn’t become a logistical nightmare first – makes it easy for users to eat healthy regardless of setting. It does this by giving users the choice of: a) making meals thru personalized recipes, b) heating up pre-cooked meals and/or c) receiving menu recommendations at local restaurants.

How Does It Work:

  1. Users fill out their profile and receive a genetic testing kit with instructions for collecting biological samples (e.g. saliva and stool).
  2. Samples are sent back to a lab and tested for genetic variants and biomarkers.
  3. The composition and diversity of users’ gut microbiomes are profiled and an algorithm will predict what foods are good for each user.
  4. Users receive a personalized report with tailored recommendations (e.g. ideal meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner) and information on how their bodies respond to food.
  5. Users mark off their calendars to customize their weekly mix of meal options (e.g. at-home cooking, ready-to-eat meal kits and/or restaurant items).
  6. Users receive ongoing tips and track progress through recommended metrics.

Are there similar ideas out there for you to check out?

  • DayTwo provides personalized dietary plans that allows you “to live healthier and maintain normal blood sugar levels”.
  • Vitagene provides tailored diet, exercises and supplements based on your genetic testing results

As always, I’d love to hear what my readers think! Do any of you currently use tools/services to help you eat healthy? If so, what do you like or dislike about them?

Sources: 1 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015-2020), 2 Fight Chronic Disease, 3 Habit (How It Works), 4 Habit (Our Science)

Wine or wine not? Knowing how restaurants price their wine may impact your decision.

Wine or wine not? Knowing how restaurants price their wine may impact your decision.

I love wine, but I’m no sommelier. When a friend and I ordered a bottle of prosecco at a “happy hour” rate of $30 (normally $40), I thought we were getting pretty good value. It didn’t occur to me until I took a sip and thought, “well, this doesn’t taste very good”, that perhaps we were better off ordering cocktails by the glass for $8-12 instead. A quick search of the prosecco brand, Primaterra, on the Internet showed me that the entire bottle retailed for $10. Given that the wholesale price is even lower, that’s more than a 200% markup! I was shocked and ever since, I’ve wondered how do restaurants price their wines? And does it make sense to order wine at restaurants? If so, when?

According to an article by Gretchen Roberts, “The Lowdown on Restaurant Markups” from the Wine Enthusiast, “industry-wide markups average two and a half to three times wholesale cost” 1. While the article is a little dated (2010), it’s similar/consistent with a more recent article from Crain’s in 2015, which reports markups of up to 300% per glass (4 times the wholesale price) 2. Why is this the case? Here’s how restaurants would justify their pricing strategies:

  • Value-add to the drinking experience. Restaurants spend time selecting wines that pair well with menu items and can provide that knowledge when you ask for recommendations 3.
  • It’s market-driven. People who order wine often feel strongly about it and if they’re willing to pay the premium, why not?
  • Taxes. Each state collects excise taxes on wine that is consumed, varying by alcohol content and ranging from $0.20 (California & Texas) to $2.50 (Alaska) per gallon 4, 5.
  • Costs. The need to cover stemware, wages, rent, inventory, may warrant restaurants to charge a markup on wine 6. One-off restaurants (unlike chain restaurants) do not benefit from volume discounts and therefore, may need to mark up wine prices more to cover costs. And it just so happens that wine is one of those few menu items for which there is a market even if you charge a premium.

That being said, I’m not convinced by the reasons above because there’s no indication that restaurants will be worse off by reducing prices and in doing so, make up for the difference by encouraging more people to consume wine.

So should you order wine or not? It depends. Most restaurants are not BYOB (bring your own beverage), so if it’s a romantic dinner or if you’re catching up with friends after a long day at work, it might make sense to pay a premium for wine to savor the moment. If you do decide to wine (and dine), here are some quick guidelines for you:

  • Markups are higher on the cheapest wines than on the more expensive ones, so you’ll get more bang for your buck by ordering a few levels above 1, 4.
  • Don’t order wine by the glass, especially if you have enough people to share a bottle 7.
  • It’s OK to try lesser-known brands. Restaurants are more likely to place a full markup on popular brands they know they’ll sell 1, 4. According to Juliet Chung from the WSJ, “wines from regions like Argentina and Spain are likely to be marked up less than ones from Napa or Bordeaux” 7.
  • Use an app like CellarTracker, to help you find good-value wines.
  • If you’re in New York, I’ve compiled a short list of wine markups for restaurants and wine bars that were voted to be the best in 2018 by The Infatuation and Eater NY. I was initially trying to gain insights on whether restaurants and wine bars price their wines very differently, but it seems like the markups are all over the place! These numbers are markups on average retail prices I found on sites like Wine-Searcher and Vivino for wine of the same type/vintage and from the same winery. I only took a sample of each restaurant’s wine list, so that’s where the accuracy may be off. Overall, it looks like the markups at wine bars and high-end restaurants, such as Momofuku and Balthazar, are lower than the rest, but their price points are also higher ($36-$100+). Whereas places like “Her Name is Han” had a really high 290% markup on their wines, but they were priced all at $37/bottle and retailed for only $5-14.
Name Neighborhood Type Yelp Rating Average Markup Over Retail
Vanguard Wine Bar* Upper West Side Wine Bar 4 125%
Momofuku Ssam Bar East Village Restaurant, American (New) 4 144%
Jadis Lower East Side Wine Bar 4 145%
Amelie Greenwich Village Wine Bar & Restaurant, French/Belgian 4.5 153%
Terroir Tribeca Tribeca Wine Bar 4 163%
Balthazar SoHo Restaurant, French 4 164%
Le Cou Cou SoHo Restaurant, French 4 205%
Gottino Enoteca Salumeria West Village Wine Bar, Italian 4 214%
Aldea Flatiron Restaurant, Portuguese 4 251%
Her Name Is Han Midtown East Restaurant, Korean 4 290%
Victor’s Café* Midtown West Restaurant, Cuban 4 341%

* For restaurants/wine bars that only offered pricing by the glass, I made the assumption that had they offered bottle pricing, it would be 3.7 times the amount charged by glass.

Lastly, don’t forget that “price” is only one factor to consider in your selection of wine! I’m always drinking $10 wines from Trader Joe’s, many of which I’d prefer over the really expensive ones anyway. So don’t forget to keep that in mind too!