There’s no denying that a number of start-ups these days can be described as “Uber for X” – the delivery of a product or service on-demand. There’s an Uber for groceries, cleaning, laundry and even massages . It’s not surprising that some are already failing given they are directly copying Uber’s operating model without adapting it to the specific “X” they are delivering. Sprig – known as ‘Uber for healthy meals’ – is an exception.
What’s Sprig’s business model?
Sprig delivers healthy, gourmet meals directly to a consumer within 15 minutes of placing an order. Customers use the Sprig app to select one of three different meal choices (menu changes daily), and are charged $9-12 per meal plus a small delivery fee.
“We feel like the current food system gives customers an unfair choice, either convenience or quality. Sprig’s mission is to eliminate that choice” – Gagan Biyani, Sprig CEO 
At its core, Sprig’s value proposition is to deliver both convenience and quality. This resonates most strongly in urban areas with a high density of young professionals, who are increasingly looking for healthy, quality food without the long wait or investment in the kitchen. While it is too early to label Sprig a definitive success (founded in 2013), its rapid yet disciplined growth, positive reviews, and strong VC backing identify it as effective thus far .
How does the operating model supporting this?
In brief, Sprig’s operating model is to cook huge quantities of a few meals, then load them into cars that drive around neighborhoods to ensure they are always close by when a customer places an order. Sounds slightly strange until you dig into the model and understand how it drives the two sides to Sprig’s value proposition – convenience and quality.
With regards to convenience (15 minute delivery), Sprig leverages technology that is core to Uber’s operations. It uses predictive analytics to anticipate key variables such as demand by neighborhood and demand for each specific meal option, and it uses data science to determine opttimal delivery routes and to drive Uber-like dynamic delivery pricing to match supply with demand and avoid long wait times . However, what really allows Sprig to be successful in delivering convenience is the ways in which it has adapted Uber’s operating model for meal delivery:
- Warming bags in vehicles: Allows drivers to carry large batches of meals and stay close to potential customers in a given neighborhood, versus the slower process of cooking meals to order and dispatching one at a time 
- Innovative sous-vide cooking method (use of water bath): Ensures meals hold up for extended periods of time while drivers circle around neighborhoods 
- Limited menu: Reduces likelihood of driver stock outs for any one of the three meals (and reduces waste)
- Employees, not contractors: Unlike Uber, Sprig has decided to make all their drivers employees of the company, which allows them to invest in training and development to ensure all drivers deliver meals in the most quick and service-friendly manner 
As for the second side of the value proposition – food quality – components of the operating model drive this as well, primarily in the form of chef assets:
- Limited menu: Improves quality control and yields cost savings from economies of scale, allowing for investment in more expensive, higher quality ingredients
- Strong executive chef: Sprig hired former executive chef at Google, Nate Keller, and in doing so acquired a preexisting set of relationships with quality ingredient suppliers, experience cooking vast quantities of food, and a solid understanding of menu preferences for Sprig’s core market (young professionals) given Keller served the same market at Google 
- Partnerships with acclaimed chefs: Help project an overall image of inspiring, high quality meals 
So will Sprig win the on-demand meal market?
It looks promising. While pieces of the operating model are replicable, Sprig has decided to deeply penetrate markets versus pursuing a broad land-grab, which builds a strong barrier to entry and helps the unit economics of what is otherwise a very capital intensive business – arguably its greatest risk.
Although there are competitors with similar business models (Caviar, Postmates, DoorDash) none come close to Sprig’s 15 minute delivery given their reliance on restaurant orders. The biggest threat to delivery time may come from Uber itself, in the form of UberEats (currently in pilot), which like Sprig achieves speedy delivery by carrying around large quantities of a few entrees. While less capital intensive, Uber risks failure by pursuing a new “food” value proposition without adapting the underlying operating model. For example. UberEats sources meals from restaurants (not made to be carried around for long periods of time), resulting in lower quality . If however Uber and other competitors can more effectively align their business and operating models, Sprig may be in trouble.