#Tech news

Food-as-medicine startup Chiyo helps postpartum moms with nutrition after raising $3 million

One of the hardest things about being pregnant is learning what to eat for maximum digestive comfort and nutrition. Once the baby is born, the nutrition guessing game continues on what foods are ideal for postpartum and nursing.

Chiyo wants to be that support system by offering nutrition advice and meals in the form of a meal delivery service to women from fertility through postpartum as part of its holistic approach to fertility care. Chiyo offer digital guides and health coaching for its users and is also working to build what it considers the “first-of-its-kind” research database of nutrition for women’s health.

Irene Liu, co-founder and CEO, got the idea for Chiyo after seeing her mother send her aunt traditional Chinese medicine meals after her aunt had a baby. Liu was always interested in the concept of food as medicine, and wanted to pull from her background in nutritional science combined with Eastern food therapy to create stage-based and symptom-specific nutrition programs for other mothers.

“My family is Taiwanese, and I’ve always grown up with a more holistic medicine approach, and how you use food to prevent disease, heal and make you feel better — a more functional food way of thinking,” Liu told TechCrunch. “After seeing what postpartum care looks like in Asia and other more ancient cultures, I wondered why this doesn’t exist in the U.S. Why aren’t we using functional food in this way for a really important lifestyle if your body keeps changing?”

The pilot that never ended

Liu started her career at Bain & Co., understanding the economics of food systems, and then worked for a nonprofit on the south side of Chicago, setting up local grocery routes. Combining an interest in food as medicine with a policy degree from Harvard and a business degree from Wharton, gave Liu some food for thought — if you will — about how to build a local thriving economy through economic development initiatives so that a food system can support itself.

She met co-founder Jennifer Jolorte Doro, a clinical nutritionist and postpartum private chef. They initially launched a pilot program, a five-week postpartum meal delivery service to new mothers in New York City.

As Liu puts it, the pilot never ended. The company’s website was boosted organically on Google during that time, and the pair started getting thousands of pre-orders. “All of this was flying by the seat of our pants, just to ship the product,” Liu said.

Chiyo, postpartum, nutriton

Chiyo’s postpartum nutriton program sends three meals a day. (Image credit: Chiyo)

So they founded Chiyo in 2020 and began shipping meals nationwide from a kitchen in Kearny, New Jersey. The cofounders liked the idea of a company that offered the actual meals, rather than something digital only, because selling a product would provide “richer data” around how people would use their offerings.

The company has served 100,000 meals since launching in 2021, and revenue grew 300% in the last 12 months amid a nationwide expansion, though Liu decline to specify what the actual revenue number was. In addition, Chiyo works with more than 100 women’s health practitioners.

The product roadmap is evolving, too, extending from the postpartum program to eventually serve the full women’s health journey. This includes a menstrual cycle fertility program that sends tonics and broths based on your menstrual cycle. Then on the postpartum side, the foods will change based on your estimated due date.

And unlike other meal service providers that want you to be customers for life, Chiyo’s goal is to get you off of its program. The average user is on the program for about four weeks. The 40-days postpartum program, which includes three meals per day, starts at $69 per day.

“We’ve become more prescriptive about the timing that impacts the outcomes on your body,” Liu said. “For example, we started with the first 40-days postpartum program. Then we launched framing and understanding of what’s happening in your body within the first six weeks postpartum, and what’s really important. We’ve seen our customers increase from, for example, even two weeks for postpartum recovery.”

Next up: self-guided nutrition

Now the company aims to build a digital platform for personalized customer self-guided content and nutrition programs. Eventually, users will be able to rate each solution’s efficacy and help contribute to the research database of nutrition for women’s health.

This is buoyed by a new investment of $3 million, led by early-stage investor Bread & Butter Ventures. Other participants in the round include Ingeborg, Union Heritage Ventures, Peterson Ventures, Detroit Venture Partners, Palette Ventures, and The Helm.

The company has now raised a total of $3.4 million. Other backers include fashion blogger and designer Aimee Song, Elizabeth Chrystal, former CFO of the Momofuku restaurant chain; Jing from Fly by Jing, and Health-Ade co-founder Vanessa Dew.

The new funding also enables Chiyo to scale its distribution through clinics and its practitioner community and invest in additional food as medicine research.

“From all of that work, we are out to prove the ROI on investing in nutrition and health care cost savings so that eventually this program can be reimbursed and not have to be out-of-pocket,” Liu said. “We are also working with a number of clinics and hospital systems on how to be a nutrition plugin. If their patient has any nutritional questions, or wants more nutritional support, it’s a co-branded entry point into our ecosystem.”

Have a juicy tip or lead about happenings in the venture world? Send tips to Christine Hall at chall.techcrunch@gmail.com or via this Signal link. Anonymity requests will be respected. 

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