Ahead of an expected initial public offering later this year, Instacart is launching a slew of new features as part of a health initiative aimed at making healthy foods more accessible.
The Instacart Health project touts three goals: simplifying healthy grocery shopping, improving nutrition security, and bolstering the concept of food as medicine.
“Study after study have shown that some of America’s biggest health problems are actually food problems,” CEO Fidji Simo tells Fast Company. “We think of ourselves as a company that is at the center of people’s relationship with food; that, for us, is centered on people’s relationship with their health.”
Simo believes that oftentimes people are confused about what foods to buy, or assume any nutritious food is bland. “If you want people to adopt healthier habits, it’s going to have to come through foods that inspire them and are as flavorful, if not more flavorful, than other foods,” she says. That inspiration will come, at least in part, via Instacart’s health-focused shoppable carts option, a spin on a recent feature that allows users to buy bundles of products recommended by retailers, celebrities, and creators. Now, the company is partnering with health experts (like dietitians) and chefs to put together some of their favorite options. Shoppers will also be seeing more digital pop-ups in the app featuring healthier ingredients and snacks, and Instacart is expanding its health tags to make it easier to find items that fit their needs.
For Simo, the drive to provide consumers with means to access nutritious food is personal. Simo, who is allergic to gluten, recalls the difficulty sticking with a nutrition plan when given an uninspiring list of foods written out by a nutritionist. “I would fold it in half and never do anything about it,” she says. “It wasn’t really convenient to figure out how to stick to that. It was not framed in a way where I felt like it would be easy for me to change my habits.”
The grocery delivery platform will also be expanding its affordable payment options in the next year by building out SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) offerings and adding TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) benefits. Instacart is also rolling out Fresh Funds, a new feature that lets organizations, such as healthcare insurers, give people funds to buy food from retailers on the platform. Instacart will be piloting Fresh Funds together with the nonprofit Partnership for a Healthier America in Indianapolis and plans to expand nationwide in 2023.
“We are seeing interest from insurance companies in funding these programs upfront,” Simo says, explaining that it will likely help them save on health care costs down the line.”We try to think about ways that we could be a technology platform for anyone who is interested in directing some of their dollars toward these low income communities, or any community for that matter.”
Instacart is also working to get health providers involved in its efforts to treat food as medicine. The company’s new Care Carts product lets healthcare providers and caregivers order groceries on a patient’s behalf after, say, they’re discharged from the hospital, or are following a prescribed meal plan. And those who don’t want their grocery service handled by someone else can still access prepared lists from their nutritionist or dietician. (Simo adds that the system can only be seen by the doctor or the patient. Any information on the consumer’s health condition is also not included within the app, nor is there any medical information.)
The sweeping Instacart Health initiative comes alongside Wednesday’s White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, which laid out the Biden administration’s plans to increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030. Simo says that it’s important Instacart doesn’t view Instacart Health as “just a social initiative that we do on the side.”
“When we look at everything that we can do to drive that positive societal outcome, it turns out it’s good for business too. And that’s actually a really good thing because that means that if companies realize that what’s good for society is also good for their business, they’re going to invest more,” she says.