Food-as-medicine startup Bitewell unveils personalized online store for members to buy healthy food

Bitewell, a food-as-medicine company, has launched a new digital food “farmacy” to encourage members to buy healthy groceries and pre-made meals.

The online store personalizes the food shopping experience based on members’ health conditions and goals. Members can access the offering through a participating health plan, wellness program or provider.

Kelly’s Choice, a nutrition and health platform offering coaching and workplace wellness, is among the partners who will begin sponsoring Bitewell food farmacy memberships this month.

The food farmacy aims to make food-as-medicine affordable and actionable. It is customizable for more than 47 different health conditions and, per the company, is like having a food expert in the member's pocket. It delivers to any zip code in the U.S. and has members in all 50 states.

Cofounder and CEO Samantha Alexander has a personal connection to the mission of food-as-medicine, she told Fierce Healthcare. Everyone in her family is managing a diet-related disease, from cholesterol to prediabetes to food allergies. The new farmacy’s mission is to prevent, manage or reverse disease through food. 

Once members sign up for the shop, they will only be able to buy food that meets their unique health needs—a “marketplace of yes,” as Alexander calls it. The platform tracks what food each member buys and how it made them feel. Members can also accumulate points per purchase, leading to store credit, depending on their sponsor’s plan. Bitewell claims that members can save from 5% to 35% off retail food prices through the platform. 

Bitewell’s algorithm assigns a numerical score from 0 through 10 to all the food available around a member and then curates a selection of healthy food options for purchase, ranging from prepared meals, groceries, produce and protein boxes. Foods with a score of five or lower will not be available for purchase, per Alexander. But members can interact with the platform to learn more about why certain foods are bad for them.

“Our members get really into the score and really into learning about food,” Alexander told Fierce Healthcare. 

Once the purchase is complete, it's delivered to a member’s front door or can be picked up at a local retail location. Bitewell tries to offer free delivery wherever possible, but for some vendors, delivery still has a fee, executives said. The company also gives its own team members $200 a month to shop with the online store.

While Bitewell’s partnerships with vendors allow the company to access more than 80% of the U.S. food supply, less than 15% of food accessible online and in-store is permitted and available for purchase within the farmacy. Limiting inventory to comply with Bitewell’s strict nutrition guidelines is by design.

These vendor partners either already have a business model built around healthier food or are interested in exploring food-as-medicine. The shop serves as “a really interesting playground” for larger retailers to get insight into what people want to buy, Alexander said. 

“We will have the data that food vendors and food manufacturers need to figure out what to tackle first, how to tackle making our food supply healthier,” Alexander said. “We hope to inform that over time.”  

Prior to the launch of the farmacy, Bitewell featured a similar online marketplace, but it was not limited to health-positive items but rather showed any and all items, no matter how low their health score. The decision to pivot was driven by members requesting that Bitewell help them focus only on good choices.

The startup joins a growing number of companies entering the food-as-medicine space, with players like Uber Health, Kroger Health and About Fresh introducing new initiatives on produce delivery, dietitian-approved meals and food-as-medicine research.