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Early Impact: Meet Mealia, a chatbot tackling food poverty

Mealia

Two very different themes have dominated UK news cycles for the last 18 months: the cost of living crisis and the rise of artificial intelligence. Mealia, a startup founded in 2022, is at the intersection of these two trends.

The company is developing a chatbot built on generative AI tools, pioneered by OpenAI, to support low-income households in managing increasingly expensive food shopping.

“The number of families facing food insecurity has more than doubled since pre-pandemic levels,” said Mealia CEO Gabriel Corbett, “and that in itself is a very good reason for Mealia to exist.”

Users can “chat” with Mealia, telling it their dietary needs, budget and any specific details of what they like to eat and how they are able to prepare it.

The software – or “grocery shopping buddy” – then generates personalised recipes and meal plans that give instructions to users in the way they want it to be presented.

Mealia creates these meal plans based on the ingredients users have, as well as the budget they have available for food shopping. It then scans its database of supermarket prices, updated automatically, to provide the most affordable products that fit in with the meal plan.

“A scary number of people were telling us that what they were doing is sacrificing diet quality to ensure they have enough food on the table, which is pretty crazy,” Corbett told UKTN.

In addition to finding the best value products, Mealia intends to combat food waste with its suggestions and recommend sustainable ingredients. It can also make recommendations for other household essentials.

“The whole decision-making process that goes into what we eat, and what we buy, is one of the most impactful ones that we go through for our own lives, but also for the rest of the world.”

Open beta

While still very much in the early stages – it’s currently offering an open beta of the full version – Mealia is looking to expand through partnerships with supermarkets.

Through these partnerships, Mealia would take a commission fee on supermarket orders generated through its platform. The app is free for consumers.

Corbett founded Mealia with the startup’s chief technology officer, Rish Chowdhry, along with head of partnerships, Laura Winningham, who received an OBE for service to the community for setting up and running a charitable organisation that provided millions of meals during the pandemic.

The founding team first came together as part of the Entrepreneur First tech accelerator programme. Corbett and Chowdhry were initially working on an idea to assist people with medical dietary requirements to find the right foods from supermarkets.

“However, in 2022, with rising food prices, and really tightening budgets, the impact of the cost of living crisis on food insecurity specifically, became evident to say the least,” Corbett explained.

The company has since rebranded from Nuriu and secured backing from the mayor of London through the Poverty Prevention Challenge, which awarded grant money to startups using technology to combat the rising cost of living.

Along with financial support, the programme from Sadiq Khan is fostering connections between Mealia and relevant organisations in the public sector to scale the company’s operations.

Early Impact is a monthly UKTN series profiling early-stage startups that are solving societal problems.

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