April Gibble, a 47-year-old mother of three, has always loved to cook. She prepared a feast for 30 guests in her Greenville, S.C., home this Thanksgiving, then baked maybe 30-dozen cookies with a friend in preparation for Christmas.
Gibble and her husband also run an organic blueberry farm and raise ducks and chickens on their property. In the evenings, after an arduous day of mulching and weeding, she doesn’t always have the energy to cook dinner for five. So, when she learned from the finale of the TV show “MasterChef” that she could order frozen, fully-prepared versions of two meals featured on the broadcast from a new site called Pop-Up Pantry, she was intrigued. Until then, her only option for dinner delivery had been Domino’s. She ordered the three-course Pop-Up Pantry meals, at a cost of $80, and they showed up on her doorstep, packed in dry ice, a few days later.
Gibble was impressed enough that she has made Pop-Up Pantry a regular habit. She’s bought a total of eight frozen meals from the site, and hasn’t tasted a clunker yet.
“There’s no comparison with frozen meals from a grocery store — it’s so much more flavorful. We consider it the equivalent of going to a nice restaurant, but you get to eat at home,” Gibble told The Huffington Post. “I’m always more comfortable eating at home, where I can sit with my family without all the noise of a restaurant.”
Stories like Gibble’s are increasingly common as the world of culinary e-commerce heats up. Selling food over the Internet is nothing new — after early failed attempts by sites like WebVan to enter the space, companies that include Seamless Web, Fresh Direct and GrubHub have found enduring success. But Pop-Up Pantry and several other new sites have emerged as a third generation of culinary e-commerce, aiming to go beyond their forebears by providing edible services unavailable before the Web.
The founders of many of these sites speak the language of apps and Akamai more fluently than that of borage and Batali. They’ve been able to propose new models for dining in part because they never got attached to the old ones.
Many have started companies that meld social media and restaurants, often by encouraging people to dine at a new eatery with strangers. Social dining site MysteryMeet, for example, was founded by someone with a background in branding and marketing, while iOS app SupperKing, which facilitates impromptu dinner parties, was founded by an ex-financier from Germany.