Lighter launches a better, more affordable way to eat healthy

The Lighter team. Sitting:  Christine Angela Dolendo. Back row (L to R) Kristie King, Lara Goodrich Ezor, Alexis Fox, Natalie Obermeyer Hunter, and Micah Risk.
The Lighter team. Sitting: Christine Angela Dolendo. Back row (L to R) Kristie King, Lara Goodrich Ezor, Alexis Fox, Natalie Obermeyer Hunter, and Micah Risk.

When Micah Risk walked into a coffee shop to meet with Alexis Fox for the first time in 2013, she knew she was encountering a kindred spirit: The two women had already established themselves as up-and-comers in the worlds of both fitness and nutrition.

Risk is an endurance athlete, Runner’s World cover girl, and a nutritionist who graduated from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts. Fox has fought for animal protection as an advocate and lawyer and recently served as the Massachusetts state director for the Humane Society of the United States. When they left the meeting, they had decided to be business partners, and had planted the seeds for a new kind of nutrition startup. And together they’ve launched Lighter, which delivers healthy, plant-based food along with a very organized, personalized weekly menu and recipes for each meal.

“Micah and I have both been focused on solving the same problem our whole adult lives, and that is fixing the broken food system,” said Fox, the company’s chief empowerment officer.

Lighter’s mission-driven approach to promoting affordable and healthy eating regiments has taken several forms since their partnership began. At first, they focused on offering classes and nutritional counseling, but that direction didn’t pan out. “What we found is that we were taking people’s time and their money, and the two things that people don’t have is time and money,” Fox said. That led to trying to build something more focused around the highly customized meal plans that Risk had been creating for families as a nutritionist.

“So we uploaded Micah’s brain, we uploaded her whole process into software,” Fox explained.

Using an algorithm based on Risk’s nutritional meal planning process, Lighter takes family size, food preferences, time available, nutrition goals, and health needs into consideration when creating its animal product-free, healthy meal plans. Each week, families who sign up for the service receive a grocery delivery as well as a new menu and the accompanying recipes (eventually, Lighter plans to add step-by-step videos for its recipes). The company doesn’t handle any of the food delivery itself, but contracts with local delivery services like Instacart to get its families the food they need.

But what separates Lighter from other food planning and delivery services, other than its focus on animal-free products?

The price.

The company estimates that its service costs families $4 to $5.80 per person. Its competitors can’t really match that affordability; the per person cost of a meal through Plated, for instance, is $12, while Blue Apron starts at $8.74, per person, per meal. Fox notes that they’re able to keep costs low because the company isn’t buying animal proteins, which typically cost more than plant-based fare.

Using Lighter is also very convenient, its executives argue, especially for busy, health conscious families with very little time to grocery shop for often difficult to find health foods. As Fox explained, one of the company’s goals is to keep people out of the grocery store and spending more time with family or doing other important things. “I don’t want people to use Lighter because it’s sustainable, and I don’t want them to use it because it’s healthy,” she said, “I want them to use it because it is so freaking convenient that they don’t have to go to grocery store anymore, and it tastes really good.”

“And that we are saving them money,” Fox added.

Currently, Lighter is in beta mode, meaning users can sign up and get access to the service based on the availability of delivery options available in their area. The company says it’s currently operating in every major city in the United States, and hopes to expand to the suburbs as delivery services outside of metropolitan areas expand.

But perhaps most impressive is that the company doesn’t just preach an active, nutritious, and healthy lifestyle; it is built into the fabric of the Lighter. “All of us on the team are very active, we either work out in the morning or go to the gym after work,” said Fox.

Just how active became clear during my interview with Fox, when Risk walked over and asked if we wanted to take a brain break, something the Lighter team tries to do every hour. What, you may ask, is a brain break? It’s three minutes of three different exercises. During the brain break, the team, dressed in what Fox called the company’s “yoga-chic” dress code, did planks, some body weight squats, and another yoga-type stretch.

Fox explained that Lighter team members often come up with a business-based idea during the workout sessions. “Sometimes, while we are holding a plank [workout position] we’ll be talking about some problem we are solving and good ideas are exchanged,” Fox said. “It gets us out of our being plugged in all the time.”

So stretching the body can help the idea-making process become more flexible too.

“This is one of the beauties of starting your own company,” said Fox.

Dennis Keohane was a Senior Staff Writer for BetaBoston.
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