June 9, 2014

LeanBox: The Mean, Green, Workers’ Vending Machine

The morning rush, the unexpected late lunch, the 3 o’clock slump—workdays are riddled with temptations to grab a quick pick-me-up from the office vending machine or at the local fast-food joint. Surprised by the unavailability of healthy, accessible, workday food options, Shea Coakley and Peter Roy, co-founders of the Boston-based start-up LeanBox, are on a mission to deliver fresh, affordable food options to offices throughout Boston—and beyond.

We chatted with Shea to get the skinny on LeanBox, a healthy and convenient vending machine built to satisfy that cubicle craving.

LeanBox co-founders Peter Roy and Shea Coakley: Proud papas of insta-produce.LeanBox co-founders Peter Roy and Shea Coakley: Proud papas of insta-produce.

Zipcar: What was the moment that made you and Peter decide to quit your office jobs and venture into the foodservice industry?

Shea: We were tired of having to search for healthy food items in or around the office and had a very general idea of getting leaner options to our workplace. We first landed on a quick-service restaurant business model that delivered food directly to the office. The “aha” moment came when we were testing our first product—it became very clear that we were solving a massive issue in corporate food service. Traditionally, there are two-workplace food “buckets”: wireframe vending machines and corporate cafeterias. There really is nothing out there in between.

Can you explain a little bit about how LeanBox works?

Think gourmet food section meets hotel mini bar.

Any time of day you can scan in with your LeanBox card, scan out the RFID tagged food item, and pay using your LeanBox card or traditional credit card.

The goal of LeanBox is to provide a gourmet prepared-meal section into a small space. The moment you leave your desk to “food in mouth” only takes about a minute or two. The whole process is simple—tap, grab, and go.

With the use of RFID technology, LeanBox must be capturing a lot of data about your customers and their eating habits.

We know in real-time what is in every single one of our boxes. If a company or a department is particularly interested in soups or wraps, we know how many are being purchased and how we can continuously keep the box stocked with the items the employees want and are enjoying. It’s also a great resource to provide our food partners with real-time information on how their products are performing. While we have large, popular items available in LeanBoxes, we are also able to introduce new, relatively unknown brands to an untapped demographic and vice versa.

Meet the new face of vending machine fare. (Fresh, tasty, and no cheese puffs in sight!)Meet the new face of vending machine fare. (Fresh, tasty, and no cheese puffs in sight!)

What do you find are the main reasons people do not eat healthfully, particularly during the workday?

People want food that both tastes good and is convenient. I am a great example of our target demographic; I am not a particularly good cook. I don’t have the creativity or the ability to make healthy gourmet food at home nor do I have the time. I think a lot of people who work full-time can relate. People eat what’s available, what tastes good, and is easy to find. We provide people with a healthy option right in their office, sometimes right on their floor.

Zipcar’s mission is all about “simple and responsible urban living.” What are the core values that inspire LeanBox?

We’re really tackling the “busy factor.” We are focused on simplifying healthy living by making meal prep a lot less stressful and time-consuming. We are also really passionate about giving back. We have a two-fold charitable effort: For every 10 dollars purchased through LeanBox, we donate the financial equivalent to The Greater Boston Food Bank. Additionally, we utilize the analytics on the food and before it expires, we donate it to local food banks. Our end-goal is to be a zero-waste company.