The latest player in dinner delivery? MedStar Health. Yeah, that MedStar

Washington Business Journal. By Tina Reed.  

MedStar Health Inc. is getting into the business of dinner.

The regional health care behemoth launched a fresh meal delivery service called WellRooted — echoing the subscription business model popularized by national brands Blue Apron and Plated — with Alexandria-based meal delivery startup Power Supply.

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MedStar Health’s Institute for Innovation launched a new meal delivery service that offers healthy options for Type 2 diabetics. 

The niche? Making mealtime easier for people living with Type 2 diabetes.

The idea was launched out of the MedStar Institute for Innovation’s Health for America Fellowship collaboration with D.C.-based startup accelerator 1776. With nearly $250,000 in funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and MedStar, four health fellows were challenged to learn firsthand about diabetes — including checking their own blood sugar and making food choices as if they had the condition — to create new ideas about services for diabetics.

“What we experienced, and what patients told us, was they had a lot of added stress and frustration at mealtime,” said Amanda Newman, one of the fellows.

They created WellRooted, which allows customers to select from an online menu of diabetes-friendly meals. Each is less than 600 calories and has no more than 60 grams of carbohydrates and less than 750 milligrams of sodium. Step-by-step instructions with photos are included. The meals all have fewer than 12 ingredients and can be cooked within 35 minutes.

The cook-at-home recipe ingredients end up working out to about $6 to $10 per person per meal on average; prepared meals from Power Supply start at $13 per person per meal. The site automatically connects to Instacart, a grocery delivery service, to allow customers to populate their grocery list and schedule delivery of the ingredients they need for a specific dish. Anyone wholives in an area where Instacart delivers can use the service, although recipes are available for free on the WellRooted site.

WellRooted is following the lead of the fast-growing cook-at-home meal delivery industry. Technomic, a Chicago-based food industry consulting firm, has predicted boxed-meal services will expand to a $3 billion to $5 billion industry in the next decade. Investors have enthusiastically embraced major players like Blue Apron and Plated.

But WellRooted isn’t generating its own revenue yet, as all revenue is going to Instacart . It also doesn’t fit within the niche of other meal services that only provide the exact pre-portioned amount of ingredients for each dish; users receive a full bag of groceries with the ingredients.

“That helps our customers build what’s called a ‘well-stocked’ pantry,” Newman said.

The next phase of the WellRooted team’s work will be focused on creating a more sustainable and scalable business model with help from Power Supply, Newman said.

It is targeting a potentially massive market with diet being among the toughest areas for the health care system to crack. The American Diabetes Association estimated the total costs of diagnosed diabetes reached $245 billion in 2012, up from from $174 billion in 2007. People with diabetes incur annual additional health expenses of about $7,900.

Studies have found enrolling patients in programs aimed at lifestyle changes resulted in fewer hospitals stays and fewer medications, with costs that are 10 percent less than patients put in traditional diabetes education programs. Over a decade, those patients had average health care costs of $5,280 less than those in an education group.

Poorly managed, the condition can impact every organ in the body and create a host of health problems, said Dr. Mark Smith, who oversees the MedStar innovation lab.

“I daresay a lot of that cost and those problems could be avoided if their conditions were handled better,” he said.

WellRooted organizers said they inspired by their own experience because, despite receiving training, they still failed in many cases to properly follow the diabetic diet.

Newman, who eats a vegetarian diet, was surprised to find out the beans she was eating for protein were packed with far too many carbs. So she cut back and more closely monitored every thing she ate. “The diabetes educator finally looked at my food log and said, ‘Aren’t you hungry?’ I said, ‘Yes. I am so hungry,’ ” Newman said.