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GiftAMeal turns food photography into meals for those in need

Instagram is saturated with millions of photos of food daily, while over 40 million people in the United States do not know where to find their next meal.

GiftAMeal, a free mobile app for iOS and Android based out of St. Louis, is trying to change that statistic by providing a meal to someone in need every time a user takes a photo of their food (at participating restaurants) through the app.

The startup also provides a second meal to someone in need every time a user shares that same photo on Instagram or Facebook.

How it started

The idea for GiftAMeal started in the summer of 2014, when CEO Andrew Glantz was interning at a venture capital firm in Los Angeles. After collaborating with another intern, Aiden Folbe, COO of GiftAMeal, the pair came up with the idea over a lunch break.

“We noticed that the restaurant we were in didn’t have a lot of customers, but they had really good food,” said Glantz. “We started brainstorming different ways we could drive traffic to restaurants while helping people in need, and the idea just grew from there.”

Glantz moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis to attend Washington University three years ago. He said that the connections between the university and the startup ecosystem in St. Louis is what motivated his move.

He added that the team wouldn’t have been able to get to where they are today without help from all the connections they’ve made within the St. Louis startup ecosystem.

“As an undergraduate student startup we’re learning as we go, and we very much rely on the support and advice from the mentors and advisors around us.”

How it works

Participating restaurants pay GiftAMeal a monthly fee to be on the app. Glantz said that the fee ranges from $50 to $200 per restaurant per location, depending on which plan the restaurant signs up for.

“Out of that monthly fee, each time a user uses the app, we make a donation to the food bank,” said Glantz. “There’s currently no maximum amount of meals that can be donated.”

Glantz explained that GiftAMeal provides their donation by helping get food that is already in food bank distribution centers to local pantries, where people in need can get access to it.

“Our donations go to the refrigeration, transportation and labor costs that are associated with the food that is already largely donated by supermarkets for the most part,” said Glantz. “Our donations help make sure that less food in these distribution centers perishes or goes to waste.”

Measuring success

When asked about the major challenges the startup has faced since its founding, Glantz said a big initial challenge was trying to gain users to drive traffic to participating restaurants.

“We experimented with all kinds of marketing materials from table tents, coasters, window decals and menu inserts to restaurant staff t-shirts, flyers and posters, all to see what would get more people on the app,” said Glantz.

Glantz said the team tried a variety of ways to measure their impact on participating restaurants, including measuring the number of uses per restaurant, the number of impressions generated from social media posts of the participating users, user surveys and case studies.

“Overall we found that our media coverage really helped get more people onto the app, as well as the table tents we distributed at the participating restaurants,” said Glantz. “The table tents were cheap to distribute, and they were also a great way for customers to engage with the app while they were waiting for their food. They also helped spread the word about the other participating restaurants on the app.”

Traction and awards

Since it’s founding in October of 2015, the app has attracted over 8,000 users, and has helped provide over 30,000 meals to local food pantries. Glantz said the app has also helped drive a returning socially-conscious customer segment to the 125 participating restaurants throughout St. Louis and Chicago.

The team also recently won multiple awards including the SXSW Top 3 Student Startup in the United States and the 2015 Mobiley’s People’s Choice Award, among several others.

“After we won those awards, we received our first investment for $100,000 from the Capital Innovators Accelerator in St. Louis,” said Glantz. “That was the first time that they had invested in an undergraduate student startup, so that was really exciting for us.”

Glantz added that while the awards were exciting to receive, the impact that the startup is making is more exciting to the team.

Targeting millennials and expanding nationwide

Glantz said that marketing for restaurants has always been tough due to lack of budget, and it will continue to be difficult, but GiftAMeal hopes to disrupt the industry in an innovative way.

“We’re finding that millennials have the highest purchasing power in the restaurant industry, which is one of the strong motivations behind our app,” said Glantz. “Since they also are the biggest demographic of Instagram users, we are trying to capitalize on that market in a new way.”

While GiftAMeal is currently only available for restaurants in St. Louis and Chicago, the team hopes to expand nationwide within the next few years.

“We hope to get to 10,000 participating restaurants,” said Glantz. “The way we’re going to get there is through both city by city expansion and by signing on more chain restaurants.”

Mel Lucks is a regional freelance journalist and former intern for Silicon Prairie News and AIM.

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