The COVID-19 pandemic led an unprecedented number of consumers to switch to online shopping for their grocery needs. With that comes a range of new difficulties, including finding nutrition labels, and the struggle is only compounded for those with special dietary needs.
Enter the group behind Berry, a new Jersey City-based student startup that wants to help ease the pains of the online grocery shopper, while promoting community health and wellness. The Berry team consists of Eleni Retzepis, Anjali Kapoor, Franchesca Doell, Liam Esparraguera, and Jersey City-native Anna Prilutsky. All five are rising sophomores at Princeton University, studying a mix of engineering, computer science, and economics.
Inspired by their own personal and familial struggles with nutrition-dependent health conditions, they decided to start a company to fill a need that they were able to identify.
“The four girls, we all started living together in the fall, because of the pandemic,” recounts Anna Prilutsky. “Our school was virtual, so we lived together in Jersey City and we did ShopRite online grocery delivery… Our pantry was stacked with, like, four different types of peanut butter, because everyone had their own different needs… And it made the process of shopping online very interesting because everyone wanted access to different nutritional information. And so over time this idea formed of like, hey, most of us study computer science, we have the skills to do something about this. Let’s develop a tool that helps people that care about nutrition when they’re shopping online.”
Franchesca Doell was inspired by her own family. “I’ve always tried to eat healthy, but my main motivation was because of my dad,” she says. “My dad has LADA Type 1 Diabetes… [and he struggles] a lot with grocery shopping because he has to look at every single nutritional label there is out there… in order to make sure he’s not eating too [many] carbohydrates, so his blood sugars don’t fluctuate as much. And so I realized that there was a need for something out there that would help [with] this nutritional analysis, so he would waste less of his time… He’s a company owner, and so his time is very valuable, as it is with many people with diabetes and autoimmune diseases.”
The team members applied to Princeton’s Keller Center eLab Summer Accelerator program, and were accepted. Now, they’re spending the summer living in Jersey City and working with Princeton staff to research and develop their product. Currently, their goal is to interview as many members of the Jersey City community as possible in order to best understand their needs.
In an email, Prilutsky explained, “Online shopping is difficult, especially for people who have to take the time to examine what they buy (diabetics, dieters, etc). Nutrition labels are not easily accessible and understandable. From our 50+ interviews done so far, we’ve found that across most demographics shoppers feel that the barriers to healthy eating are a lack of knowledge and time. If people knew which bad ingredients to look for, they would factor this into their shopping. From our general research we’ve found that this issue is expansive and applies to a community like JC where online shopping is popular, but healthy eating is often inaccessible due to a lack of digestible information.”
The tool that the Berry team is creating is still in the early development stages of being an extension for online shopping platforms, and the ultimate product will be influenced by what they learn from their interviews. The launch will likely be focused specifically on customers in Jersey City, with the long-term goal of expanding further.
Locals who are interested in being interviewed as part of Berry’s research can visit berryhealthy.co to sign up.