Beyond prescription produce: Harnessing nutrition benefits

In my previous post I discussed our insufficient emphasis on “food as prevention.” Prescription produce is a step in the right direction but is only one part of the puzzle, and the efforts of academics and nonprofits are necessary but not sufficient. Business must expand its approach to wellness by bringing the health-promoting, cost-saving potential of food to the workplace.


"Ugly produce" company Hungry Harvest, where I interned this summer, has a prescription produce program through which it partners with health systems and community organizations to make produce more affordable. While the program has benefited many people and is a step in the right direction, its dependence on grant funding secured by nonprofit partners limits its potential impact.

Zipongo is addressing the costs associated with unhealthy eating through "personalized, healthy eating recommendations based on biometrics, preferences and dietary needs." However, because the program simply recommends what to eat without actually making healthy foods more accessible, its impact is also limited.

While companies like Hungry Harvest and Zipongo are smart to focus individually on food as prevention, business should embrace collaboration moving forward. Specifically, efforts should involve organizations that are positioned to not only help folks know what to eat but also make those foods more accessible (logistically and financially) and measure its impact. Hungry Harvest and other food and meal delivery companies including Imperfect Foods and Sun Basket are well suited for distribution and could partner with insurance and digital health companies to measure impact and ROI.

These companies could also work with other healthcare providers to extend efforts beyond traditional primary care visits. For example, dieticians and telemedicine providers could offer prediabetic patients vouchers for reduced-cost produce delivered to their doorstep. And, perhaps most crucially, employers could embrace all of this collaboration by offering healthy foods to their employees through “nutrition benefits.”

Such efforts would enable scalability and real-time data collection (and therefore ROI measurement) that academics and nonprofits can’t match on their own. They wouldn’t eliminate the risks involved in subsidizing healthy food—there’s still a chance the savings won’t justify the costs—but they would create conditions conducive to quickly and accurately assessing the impact.

The lack of focus on food as prevention has made this space an empty canvas. There’s an abundance of resources from whom to learn including corporate wellness programs, benefits managers and insurance companies, and there’s an opportunity to take a lean approach to HR, a normally not-so-lean industry. That’s why I’m creating NutritionBenefits. Through it, I’ll not only explore why business has failed to focus on food as prevention but also facilitate the collaboration discussed above and work with companies to sample nutrition benefits, measure their impact, and scale them to their teams.