When the Wild Rockies Field Institute set out to plan its meals, it took hours to review recipes, build spreadsheets and adjust ingredients based on someone’s dietary restrictions.
The Grand Canyon Trust faced similar challenges, struggling with outdated spreadsheets that never functioned the way they were intended. That approach was so 20th century.
The two nonprofits are now among nearly two dozen to have found a solution in Wholesum Food Calculator, an upstart Missoula business that’s looking to simplify the challenges of large-scale meal preparation.
As with many startups, building an audience may be the hardest thing, and co-founders Grace Brogan and John Kamman are looking to push their app into the wider world.
“We came to develop this tool because we both had experience working for organizations who had these challenges,” said Brogan. “It was all pencil and paper. Spreadsheets break. It was really inefficient.”
Two two worked in the local nonprofit sector and knew well the challenges of planning meals for large groups. Doing it the old fashioned way took time and money – shopping for ingredients, scaling recipes for larger groups, considering schedules and timing.
Food was often wasted, Brogan said, as was money.
“We thought if two organizations in Missoula were dealing with this, then something should be done,” she said. “There was no one meeting this need for groups. We’ve tried to design an application that makes meal planning fun and easy.”
Working with a team of Ukrainian developers at LinkUp Studio, Wholesum developed a product that enables users to input recipes while considering the number of days and the number of people. Dietary restrictions can be added, along with complex schedules that call for more or less food.
The resulting “calculator” allows planners to track both inventory and costs. It scales recipes to meet the needs of a group based on size, appetite and duration. If needed, it can also print nutrition labels.
“You type in your recipes or upload them and with this easy calendar option, you can figure out when you’ll need them,” said Brogan. “It builds a spreadsheet or PDF you can organize by store to make shopping and packing more efficient.”
Launched last year, Wholesome Food Calculator has slowly found a following, landing subscribers that include the Wild Rockies Field Institute, the Grand Canyon Trust, Lewis and Clark Trail Adventures, and Ecology Project International, to name a few.
Brogan and Kamman found early guidance through Blackstone Launchpad at the University of Montana, where the motto says “Start something badass.” Months into their endeavor, they continue to work on sales, stating their product’s value to potential users.
Like many startups with limited capital, finding the time and money to pitch their project has emerged as one of the early challenges. But it’s something they look to overcome.
“We went into this to make something widely applicable that was more user friendly than a spreadsheet,” Brogan said. “We found ourselves down the road with a powerful and interesting online tool that we didn’t expect to be as beautiful, easy to use or as functional as it is. We’re always upgrading it based on needs and ideas we hear from our clients.”
The product, which has received positive reviews from customers, runs off a subscription service, ranging from $29 a month to $279 a year. Users could recover the cost by reducing staff time and food waste, Brogan said.
“We’d like to help everyone who’s wasting time and money on food planning and make it an efficient and fun process for them,” she said. “We think that could be thousands of clients across the nation.
“Really, I think providing the value has been our primary goal to save people time and money and make that part of their job easier and more efficient. Once you put it in, it’s just scaling.”