Potluck, a new digital startup launching in Savannah this March, is a foodie’s dream. The company is an online platform that allows local food lovers, growers, chefs, and nutritionists to transform their own lives and their communities with a focus on health, well-being, and agency.
Udaiyan Jatar is the Founder and CEO of Potluck. Jatar’s first taste of the food industry was when he was 18 working as a door-to-door salesman in India selling pre-made, processed food dishes to housewives. “Customers would ask me, ‘When was this made?’ and I’d say, ‘Not today and in fact not this year.’ Then I’d get kicked out of their house,” says Jatar smiling. Potluck is really a culmination of Jatar’s almost 30 years of experience working for major global brands such as Coca-Cola. While living in Atlanta working as an intrapreneur at Coca-Cola, he developed a deep interest in personalized nutrition to combat the unhealthy food and drink options delivered by food systems.
“I started to see this tsunami of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in the world and felt as though I contributed to my fair share of that. We needed to do something radical to get away from that,” Jatar shares. One of his innovations that stemmed from this is the well-known and widely-used Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, which allows consumers to customize their drinks and adjust ingredients like sugar and caffeine levels.
After leaving Coca-Cola in 2008, Jatar turned his focus to creating transformative innovations for companies such as the Heinz Corporation, Verizon, and the Gates Foundation. It wasn’t until the pandemic hit that Jatar really started thinking about ways he could take his experiences in scaling global brands and building communities around businesses, and bring it to the food sector. Over the past year, he and the Potluck team have been piloting their online platform in Savannah to determine which of its features best serves the community. They’ve received input from stakeholders such as non-profits, medical doctors, dietitians, local farmers, and more. The user experience portion of the platform has been adjusted and changed as they’ve performed research and received feedback from those interested in the platform.
So what will Potluck offer? The company achieves its mission through two core components.
The first component of Potluck is its online marketplace offering a personalized shopping experience for users to buy locally grown ingredients, locally prepared dishes, and even recipes that meet their individual dietary needs and preferences. Users create a profile and select their food allergies, diets, favorite flavors, foods they don’t like, preferable food sources, and whether or not they want items delivered or to pick up. Shoppers will then be able to easily search for recipes based on these preferences and be shown those that fit closest to their flavor profile. They will then be able to find the ingredients from local farmers and have them delivered to their homes in a meal kit so they can make the recipes themselves or find people in the community who will make those foods and sell the partially prepared or finished product to them. As for online recipe sharing, this component offers a unique feature allowing the individuals and food businesses that post to be compensated when their recipes get used.
Denis Lepine, who is Potluck’s Chief Sustainability Officer, brings his passion for sustainable food supply chains to the team. Lepine shares, “Creating these hyper-local food systems will allow consumers to get a much more nutrient-dense food by decreasing the miles the foods have to travel from farm to table. Our hope is that if consumers are able to access local nutrient-dense food, their diet is already that much richer and they’re on the road to a healthier lifestyle.” Lepine and Jatar further explain that farm-to-table food is more nutritious because oftentimes food going to grocery stores is picked in neighboring cities, but has to travel 10 times the distance it really needs to in order to get to its final destination. In these situations, produce is mostly picked prematurely and gets sent to factories where it is doctored to look pretty first. By the time the food gets to the grocery shelf, it’s missing essential nutrients because of the fact it is picked too early and also because of the unnecessarily long journey.
The second component of Potluck focuses on helping local entrepreneurs, such as farmers, restaurant owners, and cottage industry food producers, meet the individual shopper’s needs. Jatar says the platform aims to be an “insight engine for entrepreneurs” because it allows these businesses to know what community members are searching for in their respective food genres and essentially sell more and waste less.
Scott Boylston serves as Potluck’s Chief Branding Officer. Boylston is well known for his work as a professor of design for sustainability in Savannah. He adds, “The expectation of delivery is dependent on the consistency of the offering. If you have someone who wants to buy local, but if every time they try, the person they are reaching out to doesn’t have what they’re looking for, then they’re less likely to look the next time.”
In addition to these two driving forces behind the platform, Potluck incorporates additional features that build community and education around food and nutrition. The platform allows users to like or comment on recipes and even create a social circle centered around specific topics. Within the circles, participants will be able to share ideas and create meaningful conversations. “For example, if someone just got diagnosed with diabetes,” explains Lepine. “They might be seeking a space to create conversations with like-minded people around food. It could be a health-related topic or even for the total foodie who wants to share their recipes, tips, and tricks with the world.”
The team is also looking ahead to potentially add even more features.
“We are trying to make Potluck as frictionless as possible so consumers can get what they need to be healthy and get the nutrients they need. In the future, we are looking to add services from registered dietitians on the platform so consumers can figure out what they really need to be healthy,” says Jatar. “ We have a medical officer and medical sciences group on our advisory board currently to help us figure out how best we can help consumers understand what’s good for them and what they need, and then intersect that with what they like.”
State policies and regulations around the food cottage industry are complex and difficult for many to understand. Potluck especially wants to give those new to running mom and pops shops easy and understandable access to this information. Lepine and Boylston, who met 10 years ago in Savannah and have been working together over the years to understand the local food systems, have been working on the concept of creating a central hub that allows those interested in starting a food business to learn how to cook and become cottage makers. The hub will even be able to help with things like demand forecasting and inventory management.
Lastly, health equity is also very important at Potluck. “The social indicators of health are pretty dramatically against low-income communities, and even people who have the means to eat well often eat poorly because of all of the additives and unnecessary sugars provided in our current food systems,” elaborates Boylston. The team has been working with Healthy Savannah, a 501(c)3 committed to supporting a culture of health in Savannah, to figure out how to get the benefits of the platform into food deserts. Additionally, one percent of the Potluck’s revenues will go to Healthy Savannah.
Potluck’s online platform has a low barrier to entry with no subscription or membership fee. Consumers will be able to order whatever they want, and Potluck will charge a 10% fee, which will be the marketplace cost and does not include the delivery fee paid for by the consumer. There will be a 15% fee on products sold by caterers or cottage industry businesses using a recipe from someone else on the site. This ensures that the person who loaded the recipe gets paid as well.
Jatar shares that their motto has been dream big, start tiny. They chose Savannah as the first and sole city to pilot the startup given the years Boylston and Lepine have spent working to understand the intricacies of the local food systems and major players.
“The root problem of what we are trying to solve is the health and well-being of individuals and how they fit in with their communities. As a public benefit corporation, it is our purpose to help individuals and their communities thrive,” says Jatar. “Potluck is ultimately an optimizer between the individual community members’ food needs and the communities ability to meet those needs. We have tried to build a model that is good from a nutrition standpoint from the soil to the crop to the kitchen to the home, but it’s also good from an economics perspective because every dollar that gets spent in the region creates three,” concludes Jatar.
Currently, Potluck is bootstrapped with plans to raise money in the future. Today, they are seeking local food providers and entrepreneurs who want to join the platform. Providers can sign up by clicking here. The platform officially opens to everyone on March 20th.
To learn more about Potluck, visit https://onepotluck.com/.