Boston’s Mini Food Cluster: Area Startups Using Tech to Help Users Cook, Eat, Order, and Diet Better

12/23/10Follow @xconomy

Everyone eats more around the holidays, and we at Xconomy are no exception (thanks to the cookies, brownies, and sinful gooey butter cake we’ve had shipped to us). All this chomping got us thinking about the dribs and drabs we’ve heard about area startup companies that are applying innovative technology to the food space on some level—from online menu planning to dieting to customized ice cream to managing lines at restaurants. Read below for some snippets on where food meets technology in Boston. And as always, please inform us of any that we might have missed.

—Those of you with multiple allergies might find e-commerce startup Cocomama Foods to be a breath of fresh air. The Cambridge, MA-based startup is developing all-natural, gluten-free foods produced from ancient grains that it says actually taste good. Its first product—which will likely hit the market in late January—is a hot quinoa (can you pronounce that?) cereal that comes in four flavors. Oh, and it’s also dairy free, soy free, nut free, and vegan, so bring on the dietary restrictions. If it nabs enough funding, Cocomama hopes to eventually expand to a whole family of allergy-free products, says COO Zachary DeAngelo.

—Taunton, MA-based MooBella‘s Ice Creamery Machine has revamped vending machines, with touch screens that enable users to choose from 96 different icy combinations. The company says an order on its high-tech device takes three steps and 40 seconds to churn out a fresh, hard scoop ice cream treat. The company has been working to get its gadget at locations throughout New England, and raised $9 million last month.

—Cambridge’s Plummelo is out to help users get both organized and inspired when it comes to cooking at home. The Web platform allows you to store all those recipes you come across on the Web and input your own. Choose which dishes you want to use for a certain meal, and the site will crawl the recipes to pull together a consolidated list of ingredients you need to pick up at the store—great for people like me who, no matter how hard we try, forget at least one ingredient when shopping for the evening’s big meal. Plummelo’s search engine also lets you scavenge for ideas based on ingredients, occasions, meal types, and dietary needs.

—An MIT student team worked on an online software product called FoodDude, which syncs your computer or smartphone to your grocery loyalty card, so you can better track what’s in your pantry. It also links to recipe sites for suggestions on what you can cook based on the ingredients in your home, and offers coupons and suggestions based on your buying habits, says team member Jeffrey Morin. We’ll have to keep our eyes on where this product goes.

—OK, there’s a company out there for you if you’re not as fancy as Plummelo users and don’t have the time or means to cook at home. Exit41 of Andover, MA, makes systems that enable online food orders from restaurants. Restaurants powered by the software can even let would-be diners browse favorite menu items on Facebook and kick off the ordering process from their profile page.

—For those of you who prefer to actually eat at a restaurant, Textaurant is aiming to take the hassle out of waiting for a table. The mobile service allows diners to remotely view the lines at their favorite restaurants and get on the wait list before even walking in the door. Textaurant texts them when their tables are ready and even serves up special deals. Meanwhile, restaurants attract more customers and glean more information about patrons’ habits during busiest times—or at least that is Textaurant’s plan. Just this week the Boston startup received $10,000 from one of the micro funds in angel investor Dave McClure’s 500 Startups firm.

—After all this eating, look to Boston’s Lose It! to shave off some extra pounds. The Web service—which also comes in mobile form for iPhone—allows customers to input their food intake and exercise regimens and then counts these factors against daily “budgets” for net caloric intake. Users can even share their progress with friends, and slice and dice their weight loss with detailed reports and graphics. Special thanks to FitnessKeeper CEO Jason Jacobs for the heads up on this one. Hmmm, maybe we have a bit of Boston fitness cluster happening, too?

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