Comcast Ventures-funded MealPal brings lunch to downtown Philly crowd for $6

On the MealPal lunch menu for this Tuesday in Philadelphia:

Two fish tacos at Dos Tacos. Or a chicken finger wrap at Jean’s Cafe, a veg biryani at Philadelphia Chutney Co., or a chicken Greek salad at Verts, plus dozens of other choices for pickup.

MealPal, a Comcast Ventures-funded start-up, has brought monthly subscriptions for lunch to Philadelphia, New York and Denver, among other cities. Since its January 2016 launch, it has dished out three million salads, tacos, wraps and sandwiches, raising $35 million in that time.

Lunches are the latest business to face potential transformation by the digital economy, as it links food-seekers with restaurants online and digs into personal meal likes and dislikes — filtering vegetarians from meat eaters, and big-portion eaters from small-plate nibblers.

Center City lawyers, office workers, salespeople and others can bite into a 20-lunch MealPal plan for $120 a month, or $6 a lunch. There’s also a lower-volume 12-lunch monthly plan for slightly more per meal, $6.40. Sixty-five restaurants in Center City are participating, part of MealPal’s network of 2,400 restaurants in about a dozen cities worldwide. Restaurants are mostly grouped within walking distances.

MealPal is “going to the mass market with the world’s most affordable lunch,” said Comcast Ventures official and MealPal board member Daniel Gulati.

The New York-based firm’s low-cost model — each participant offers only one menu item a day, and subscribers pick up the lunches themselves — allows the restaurants to operate their MealPal businesses as if they were large catering operations, instead of making individual lunches to special order, Gulati said.

Comcast Ventures, an arm of the cable and entertainment conglomerate that invests in start-up companies, was the lead investor in MealPal’s first funding round and participated in the company’s recent second financing round. Comcast Ventures, which has not disclosed its investment in MealPal, does not restrict itself to the core businesses of its Philadelphia parent company — cable TV, high-speed internet, and media.

MealPal co-founder Mary Biggins said the firm aggregates consumer demand so restaurants can lower labor costs and create a “secondary line of revenue during the busiest time of the day”: lunch. Consumers can “skip the line and their meal will be ready for them,” she added.

Biggins latched on to the idea of MealPal one day while shopping at Whole Foods in Miami, where she was living. She noticed the brisk lunch business there and thought it could be adapted to restaurants offering one lunch a day, with the lunchgoers aggregated on a website.

Menlo Partners, based in Silicon Valley, led the latest round of Mealpal financing, which raised $20 million.

“MealPal’s unique pickup model is shaking up the food-service industry, improving mealtime for both consumers and restaurants alike,” Venky Ganesan, managing director at Menlo Partners and a MealPal board member, said in a statement. “Their lunchtime success and ability to secure such a large subscriber base in a short amount of time gives us full confidence in their expansion into dinner and into further cities globally,” he said.

The company has expanded overseas to London, Sydney and Toronto. Soon, it expects to add Paris.