Lunch break: Foodify CEO discusses evolving technology-and- food trends

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Hunter Stokes is the CEO of Foodify, an online food ordering system that partners with restaurants to serve the business community’s catering needs. Photo: Rammelkamp Foto Hunter Stokes is the CEO of Foodify, an online food ordering system that partners with restaurants to serve the business community’s catering needs. Photo: Rammelkamp Foto

The world of online food ordering is constantly evolving. OrderUp was just acquired by Groupon; companies like Blue Apron deliver pre-measured ingredients straight to your door to save you the trouble of using things like spoons when you’re prepping dinner; hell, there’s even Stadium Concierge, an app that lets you order your game day pizza and soda without taking your eyes off the field. One regional company with headquarters in Charlottesville is trying to capitalize on this ever-growing food market, and we sat down with Foodify CEO Hunter Stokes to chat about the industry and how companies like his can get ahead in (and at) the game.

The concept of Foodify is similar to OrderUp and other online meal ordering companies, with one major difference: Rather than delivering cases of cheap Chinese food to college kids at midnight, the service connects businesses with local restaurants to provide catered meals in the workplace.

“Catering in our universe is, for the most part, business lunches,” Hunter says. “I’d say 85 percent of our business is lunchtime food drop-offs, not white tablecloth staffed events with alcohol. Our core business is business lunches, project meetings, employee appreciation meals.”

The model, which originated as VMeal and was revamped and rebranded as Foodify last year, is designed to make transactions between businesses and restaurants easier and more manageable for both sides. Don’t confuse it with a delivery service, though: Foodify works with restaurants that can provide their own delivery, and strictly serves as the middleman.

Restaurant and catering partners pay a commission to Foodify for each transaction, but the service, which includes things like e-mailed invitations with ordering options to each individual attending the meal, is free for businesses. The concept of a liaison between food service providers and customers isn’t a new one by any means but Stokes, a UVA and Darden School of Business grad who joined the team in 2011, emphasizes the importance of investing in modern platforms and marketing. Given things like Groupon’s recent acquisition of OrderUp and the constant release of new apps will make the screen-to-food process more efficient, Hunter predicts that within a few years the market, which is currently saturated with small startups, will consist of just a few big names.

“I would say the industry is still somewhat unsettled and in its nascent stages,” Hunter says.

Foodify was founded and is headquartered in Charlottesville, and it also serves Richmond, the D.C. metro area, Baltimore and Houston. Hunter says the company is “eying expansion opportunities,” but for now it’s focusing on the existing markets.

“We’re making sure we have an economic moat around the business so that when the competition does move in, we’re well-protected,” he says. “I think we’ll see over time that a handful of dominant brands will emerge, and it’s probably reasonable to think that those brands will serve individual customers and businesses, and probably will manage the delivery piece as well. We’re a long way from that. Until then, it’s still up for grabs, and there’s an opportunity for us to build a really meaningful, significant business focusing on what we do well.”