Unversed in what a health/ tech restaurant was, images of robots serving kale and mung beans ran through my mind when I first read about Vita Mojo, the City-based eatery at the tail-end of a hugely successful round of crowdfunding.
Of course, my zany imagination was off the mark – but not by much.
Founded by Nick Popovici, a former portfolio manager for Schroders, and his high school friend – and serial entrepreneur – Stefan Catoiu, Vita Mojo uses the power of technology to offer people healthier meal options which are perfect for their dietary requirements.
“We believe in the power of the individual and champion a tailored approach to eating,” says Popovici. “Everyone is different and requires tailored building blocks – proteins, carbs and fats – in order to be their best self.”
The word here, emblematic of the social media age, is “personalisation”.
Customers are given the staggering choice of over 9bn meal combinations, selected either in-store on an iPad, or delivered via Vita Mojo’s app or web-portal.
“The idea is that our taste preferences and nutritional needs vary not only from person to person – but also from day to day,” says Popovici. “Customers have the freedom to personalise by flavour, by ingredient, by quantity, by macronutrients, by diet, by goals.”
All this is achieved through a clever proprietary algorithm that learns to adapt to consumer needs, adjusting the quantities of the preferred ingredients to adapt to changing requirements – while also helping to reduce food wasteage by 26 per cent.
Interestingly, the firm is franchising the software, so that other businesses can personalise meals in the same way: “our passion is to make eating personalised the norm around the world,” says Popovici.
“In the future it is the software side of the business which will generate the largest amount of revenue and will ultimately have the most impact into changing how people eat. Even if our direct competitors use our software, we will then compete only on quality of food.”
Quality is certainly the top of the menu for Vita Mojo – it hired Paul Davies, head chef for Tom’s Kitchen, to build the foundation for Vita Mojo’s selection. “Stefan and I had a lightbulb moment while we were having dinner at the Ham Yard Hotel. Paul just happened to be running the kitchen that night!”
The lightbulb moment was exacerbated by an awakening to the perks of good nutrition and healthy living.
After a career in the City, Popovici focused on living a happier and healthier life. “It drastically improved my health and wellbeing by cutting out processed foods and educating myself about the power of eating for what your body requires and choosing delicious meals which didn’t make eating feel like a chore,” he says.
“When I left my job in finance I spent months cooking from my kitchen in East London and biking in food to ex colleagues in their City offices – I listened carefully to their feedback and Vita Mojo was born.
He never quite left the City though, choosing the Square Mile for Vita Mojo’s launch – a nod, he says, to the “high number of workers who have limited time to take long lunch breaks.”
The company launched a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube, looking for £1.5m of investment to expand its operations – a figure it smashed in just 24 hours. At time of writing, with nine days to go, it has over £2.2m of capital raised.
As a former financier, I found it interesting that Vita Mojo took the crowd-funding route, alongside a chunk of investment from multinational Elior. The answer is two-fold: “first and foremost it was about giving our customers the opportunity to invest, says Popovici. “We would be nothing without our customers and it gives them a chance to be part of our future.
“Second, crowdfunding as a platform allows us to raise our profile and talk about what we do. As a company, we are all about transparency and it has given us the opportunity to explain the different elements of our business and communicate our plans.”
Communicating their plans is probably a good idea. The next step in personalisation boggles the mind. The firm has partnered with DNA Fit, a company that uses gene samples to enhance physical fitness and nutrition. Customers who wish to take up the DNA Fit service will be given a DNA saliva test, which will then be posted to its laboratories. When the results come back, Vita Mojo's algorithm then recommends meals that take into account your DNA, your goals, and taste preferences.
Popovici adds: “your DNA influences the macro-nutrient components of your diet (low fat, high fat all dependent on your genes), as well as what ingredients you should have more or less of. Using this technology is the perfect partner for fitness training or those simply wanting to live a healthier, happier life!”