Meet the rapidly-growing nutrition program that combines Eastern food therapy and Western nutrition to cater to each stage of pregnancy, from conception through postpartum.
The Journey to Nouri
Irene Liu (WG22) was working as a management consultant in San Francisco when she noticed a pregnant teammate was often missing lunch because of back-to-back meetings, having late-night pizza for dinner, and snacking on Cheez-its when there were no other options available. Watching her teammate's less-than-pleasant experience left Irene with a negative impression of the food options for pregnant working women in the US.
Irene didn't revisit this impression until her aunt was expecting and started ordering Traditional Chinese Medicine postpartum meals, which are commonplace in East Asia. Reflecting on how much her former teammate could have benefitted from such services, Irene realized that there was a massive opportunity to change how we think of nutrition for soon-to-be mothers.
Starting in August 2020, Irene decided to explore the concept of Nouri and recruited co-founder Jennifer Jolorte Doro, a Clinical Nutritionist who specializes in prenatal and postpartum nutrition. The duo conducted extensive pre-market research, including surveying mothers about their needs and pain points during various stages of pregnancy. Discovering a lot of interest in the concept of pregnancy meal plans, especially from Millennial moms, Liu and Doro launched a successful 5-week pilot three months later.
By December, they were already building out the Nouri team and designated a shared kitchen in New York City as their headquarters.
Since then, they’ve been featured in New York Times and Bon Appetit, and have had exciting partnerships with national brands like Yinova, Hatch, and ByHeart. In their first year, they bootstrapped to ~$180K in revenue and doubled their team. While their meal plan is in the NYC market now, they plan to launch a guided nutrition app for the full Nouri experience and expand to the West Coast in 2022. Eventually, they plan to separate parts of the meal plan into stand alone remedies for different symptoms and stages of the pregnancy journey.
How Nouri Works
Currently only available in NYC, Nouri offers ready-to-eat meal deliveries for new and expecting mothers, for every stage from conception through postpartum. There are currently five meal plans offered, starting at $132/week for a subscription:
Reset for Fertility - Conception
Just Rough - Trimester 1 (According to Liu, Trimester 1 is the trickiest phase to cater to, as it's when many expecting mother's diets are the most restricted and many suffer from nausea)
The Last Hurrah - Trimesters 2 and 3
The Comeback - For new mothers; recommended 6 week subscription
The Comeback Lite - For mothers already a few months past post-partum or breastfeeding; recommended for up to a year postpartum
Weekly subscription costs, which were benchmarked against competitors like Sakara Life, vary based on plan type, number of days per week (3 or 5 days), and number of meals per day (1-3 meals). Every meal plan comes with a daily snack, tea, and broth in postpartum. Meals are delivered once a week on Monday evenings.
What Makes Nouri Different
Aside from exclusively focusing on the pregnancy journey, Nouri sees itself as different from other premium meal plans for the following reasons:
Eastern vs. Western: Nouri blends both Eastern and Western flavors, values, and whole health principles whereas most other meal plans focus on Western nutrition and recipes
Philosophy: Body positivity and health are the core of Nouri's business, as opposed to other premium meal kits that promote weight loss
Ingredients: While competitors like Sakara and Thistle offer vegan menus, Nouri is focused on whole, nourishing, functional foods specifically for the pregnancy and postpartum stage. As a result, they are plant forward, but also offer a mixture of meat and fish dinners.
The Nouri customer
Nouri's customers come from a mix of backgrounds and do not lean heavily towards one racial or ethnic group. Nor are they all expecting mothers: Roughly 20% of subscriptions have been purchased by pregnant women’s partners. Another 30% of subscriptions have been gifted by friends or coworkers.
Funding and Expansion
While Nouri is now gearing up for outside funding, the startup has been almost entirely bootstrapped thus far. Through The Wharton School, where Liu is a graduate student, Nouri has been able to obtain some funding from the Penn Innovation Fund, Penn Health Pitch Competition, and Wharton Women's Summit pitch competition.
The startup has been cash flow positive since day one and has grown organically through partnerships, articles, and word-of-mouth with minimal advertising spend. Surprisingly, acupuncture practices have been the best partners for promoting Nouri.
In terms of next steps, Nouri could expand in more ways than one:
Markets: Nouri is already considering entering San Francisco Bay Area, and Los Angeles next
Product line: Digital nutrition curriculum, expanding to offer CPG items that cater to different pregnancy stages, or meal kits with DIY components
Life stages: Serving other major life phases like PCOS to menopause
Despite the array of opportunities, Irene's team is determined to not lose track of their core mission or expand too quickly. Scaling without sacrificing quality is a big priority for the team, as ready-to-eat meals are more perishable than other products like meal kits.
In response to the question of lowering prices over time, Irene says that her team is cognizant of accessibility and are actively working on making future product categories more affordable. While decreasing the cost of the meal plan itself is challenging given the need for high quality ingredients and paying equitable wages, Nouri offers a discount for women on WIC/SNAP and is assessing other ways to advance coverage for vulnerable populations.
Nouri has already received buzz from some major publications and has been able to profitably grow without investor funding. This startup has a bright future, particularly under Liu's stewardship, and I look forward to seeing how it continues to expand in the coming months.
Reflecting on her Nouri journey, Irene says it has taught her "a lot about how much is overlooked in women's health and how much the healthcare system is designed for men." She insists that women like her former teammate shouldn't have to "just power through it."
In terms of Irene's favorite Nouri meal? "The breakfast congees - great for morning sickness but also for getting an energy boost to start the day."