A new business connects diners, restaurants, and healthful meals

Lucinda Bromwyn Duncalfe started Real Food Works to deliver healthful meals to busy eaters. Here she meets with executive chef Trevor Elliott at the Wine Thief, one of the restaurants that prepares the meals.
Lucinda Bromwyn Duncalfe started Real Food Works to deliver healthful meals to busy eaters. Here she meets with executive chef Trevor Elliott at the Wine Thief, one of the restaurants that prepares the meals. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 31, 2012

As Lucinda Bromwyn Duncalfe powered through a 10-minute pitch to an investor group earlier this month, seeking $1 million for her new healthy-meals delivery company, her audience breakfasted on low-nutrition, high-carbs bagels.

They didn't come from Duncalfe! Her idea of acceptable morning fare, which her company, Real Food Works, plans to begin offering in January, includes wheat berry porridge with pomegranate and tofu-based vegetable frittata with spinach and shiitake mushrooms.

The bagels came from the law firm hosting the investor session.

Consider it an example of the business obstacles Duncalfe must contend with as she tries to convince Philadelphians who are too busy to cook but want to live a healthy lifestyle to subscribe to Real Food Works' meal plans. Based in West Conshohocken, it is currently delivering to Philadelphia and the surrounding eight counties of Pennsylvania and South Jersey, plus Mercer County.

Duncalfe is a 49-year-old entrepreneur from Lafayette Hill whose four previous ventures included an anti-spam technology company - TurnTide - that sold for $28 million six months after she co-founded it. Despite hurdles such as people's bad eating habits, Duncalfe, the mother of daughters ages 12 and 9, is confident that Real Food Works will be another success story.

That is because of qualities other diet-oriented food programs can't claim, she said: Real Food Works' meals are healthy and are prepared by local, independently owned restaurants, not in centralized institutional kitchens.

"We have a truly breakthrough model," Duncalfe told the Keiretsu Forum investor group, which is still considering her funding request. Her company of 13 employees is "riding a trend toward health consciousness," she said.

The potential beneficiaries are not just those eager for a smaller waistline, lower blood pressure, or more energy, she said. Real Food Works' restaurant partners make out, too, Duncalfe said. In addition to what they are paid to prepare the meals - done on Mondays, a typically slow day in the industry - the program lets them reach more patrons, Duncalfe said. Real Food Works is "a very compelling value proposition for restaurants" based on a "high-margin" business model, she said.

No restaurant that was asked to participate has declined, Duncalfe said. Thirteen restaurants are cooking in the program, which has been delivering meals since July. Their chefs collaborate with Duncalfe and her staff to devise meals that meet Real Food Works' nutrient-dense standards.

The meals, ranging from 125 to 550 calories, are rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes, low in processed foods, and delivered fresh once a week to customers. The five-meal program costs $89 a week plus a $9 delivery fee; it's $149 for 10 meals, with free delivery. The 15-meal plan, (when breakfast is introduced), will cost $199.

The company's target audience is college-educated men and women between the ages of 40 and 60 with household incomes exceeding $100,000. Duncalfe is projecting revenue of $75 million within five years.

With limited funding available for marketing - one of the reasons Duncalfe is seeking investor help - Real Food Works has recruited more than 20 customers through word of mouth and social-media outreach.

Among them are Gabriel Weinberg and his wife, Lauren McCann, both 33. He runs DuckDuckGo, an Internet search-engine company in Paoli. She is a statistician at GlaxoSmithKline. Weinberg heard of Real Food Works through Duncalfe's husband, Russell Holt, who works with him at DuckDuckGo.

"I was interested as soon as I heard about it," Weinberg said last week. "Essentially, my wife and I have been struggling to eat more vegetables in our diet. We thought it would be a good way to do so."

They recently upgraded from the five-meal plan to the 10-meal plan. The menu and the restaurant mix change from week to week to ensure variety.

"I really like the idea that it was more gourmet from local restaurants - and places we could actually go to," Weinberg said. "We've gone to the Su Tao Cafe a bunch of times," he said of the Malvern restaurant that provides vegetarian Chinese dishes for Real Food Works.

At the Wine Thief in Mount Airy, owner Chris Simpson hopes to see more diners in his bistro as a result of the meals he prepares for Real Food Works.

"From a business perspective, you're getting your restaurant's name and food in front of an ever-increasing client list," he said. He also prefers healthier foods.

Simpson would not disclose what Real Food Works is paying for those meals, saying only: "We negotiate a price to make sure Wine Thief will make money as well as Real Food Works."

He said Real Food Works reached out to him because Wine Thief uses free-range poultry and grass-fed beef, and "they thought we would potentially be a good fit for them as they added animal proteins to their menu rotation."

Because his restaurant does not serve lunch Mondays and Tuesdays, cooking for Real Food Works was "fairly easy to incorporate" into the schedule, Simpson said.

Duncalfe is hoping a recent commitment of $500,000 from four investors will enable marketing, and an expansion to Los Angeles and her native New York in 2013.


Nutritional Facts

Jap Chae

Ingredients: Yam Noodles, Carrots, Onions, Red Bell Peppers, Green Bell Peppers, Spinach, Shiitake Mushrooms, Vegetable Oil, Garlic, Soy Sauce

Serving: 1 container

Calories 124   

Item   Quantity

Total Fat 5g

   Saturated Fat 0g

   Polyunsaturated Fat 2g

   Monounsaturated    Fat 3g

Sodium 335mg

Total Carbohydrate 19g

   Dietary Fibers 4g

   Sugars 5g

Protein 3g

Vitamin A 172%

Vitamin B-6 20%

Vitamin C 104%

Vitamin E 10%

Calcium 6%

SOURCE: Real Food


Contact Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466, dmastrull@phillynews.com, or @mastrud on Twitter.

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