Disrupting the Kindness of Strangers

Andrew Glantz tapped into the generosity of millennials by founding GiftAMeal. His hugely successful app has joined the fight against hunger and is built around the ‘take a photo to give a meal’ concept.

Andrew’s won awards for his work and has been chased by a string of willing investors. Read on to find out how his app has been driving customer loyalty, and how he’s building on the behavior of users to sprinkle more kindness in St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit.

The GiftAMeal Concept

“Each time someone takes a photo at one of our partner restaurants, we make a donation to a local food bank to help give a meal to someone in need. If the user then shares their photo on Facebook, or Instagram, we’ll give a second or third meal,” Andrew explains.

Restaurants pay GiftAMeal a monthly subscription to be listed on the app. For them, it’s mix of marketing and ‘giving something back.’ So far, GiftAMeal has donated over 600,000 meals to those in need.

“As we get more restaurants on the app and more users taking photos, we’ll be able to exponentially increase the amount that we can donate every month,” Andrew says.

A New Survey With Impressive Results

Andrew and his team have just completed a 14 month study with one of their partner restaurants, Pastaria, owned by Gerard Craft. They found that customers who’d used GiftAMeal were returning 3.8 times more frequently to the restaurant, equating to hundreds of dollars in extra sales.  

“We also saw that what people were saying about Pastaria was exclusively positive,” Andrew says. It’s ‘win win’ all round with customers feeling they’re making a social impact, food banks receiving more donations and restaurants getting new business and great publicity.

Understanding Your Customer Base

Andrew also surveyed users of the app. “79 percent are foodies, who dine out frequently,” he found. Users also understand that they’re fortunate and demonstrably cared about giving back. 

60% of his user base are millennials, but that still leaves a lot of people in the 55 plus age range. “It’s really important to us at GiftAMeal to make the app super easy for everybody to use, and not just for millennials taking pictures of food,” Andrew says.

“By posting, you’re able to actually make a tangible impact. That’s something that’s super important at GiftAMeal- to make sure the actions within the app are directly tied to the cause.”

“GiftAMeal has a really active group of socially minded users who want to support socially conscious businesses when they make purchases.” 

Working with Charitable Partners

Operation Food Search is the food bank in St. Louis that GiftAMeal works with. It distributes  to over 300 local pantries so that people can access food in their neighbourhood. 

It also has nutrition and educational programs to help people learn more about what they consume, and help them to eat healthily on a cost sensitive basis. 

Another of its programs, Operation Backpack, targets hungry children. In St. Louis, one in six children face daily food insecurity and don’t know where their next meal will be coming from.

With GiftAMeal, each photo funds a donation of 1.2 pounds of food distributed to one of the pantries. The cost of refrigeration, transportation and labour are all covered. 

Many People Face Transitional Problems

“A lot of the people who face hunger aren’t necessarily out on the street. They may just need extra support,” Andrew says. Something unexpected may have happened in their lives which forces them to look to a food bank for help.

“I went to one of the local pantries and talked to a woman there, Bridgett. She told me about how her house had caught fire and that she was then crashing on friends’ couches. She had a 15 year old daughter and had to rely on the food pantries for support,” Andrew explained.

“She’s back on her feet now and volunteers at that same food pantry.” 

“The big takeaway to come out of this is that hunger can happen to anyone. We are one big community and we should all be supporting each other. You never know it could be you who needs help one day.”

Seeing the Bigger Picture

Andrew has big ambitions for the future. He knows that there are more than half a million restaurants in the US and that tapping into ten percent of them could equate to over 100 million meals provided to those in need every year.

Having said that, GiftAMeal is very much anchored to its local network. That means restaurants in St. Louis support the city’s own food banks. “We have a little bit of extra obligation to help a neighbour out. Because if we don’t help them, there’s no way that somebody in Nevada is going to even know about the problem.” 

Helping More Not For Profit Organizations

“We’re starting to dabble in supporting other nonprofits in the community outside of Operation Food Search. These nonprofits can invite a restaurant to join GiftAMeal,” Andrew explains.

“If the restaurant joins and mentions that invitation, then we’ll make a $100 donation to that nonprofit.” The program is still in its infancy but you can find out more about how it all works here.

Building on Relationships with Restaurants

Andrew’s very proud that he and his team have a very good retention rate when it comes to the 175 restaurants who participate in the app. As the business grows, one of the challenges will be communicating GiftAMeal’s values to more restaurants. 

“One of our investors is Michael Staenberg who owns the chain Garbanzo which operates from a couple locations in St. Louis. It was really great to get his vote of confidence and to have one of our partner restaurants invest in us,” Andrew says.

More Plans for the Future

“We’re working on a full app revamp right now. We’re going to give users the option to have public or private profiles. When they choose a public profile, the restaurants will have access to the photos as well,’ Andrew says.

Restaurants can use the photos to post on their social media saving them time and effort. This also helps make users feel valued because they can see that restaurants are to an extent making donations in return for the content generated. 

“One way to think about it is that when a customer posts something on social media at a restaurant, you’re effectively transforming that customer into a brand advocate,” explains Andrew.

A Quick and Easy Process

“It’s all automatic,” Andrew says. “The user takes a photo through the GiftAMeal app. We then use the phone’s location services to verify the user is actually at the restaurant. It’ll post the photo on their GiftAMeal  profile. The whole process takes under 30 seconds.”

“We’re going to be adding in a restaurant leaderboard soon,” he adds. With the help of academics, he and his team examine user behavior to learn the best practices which can  lead to more awesome results.

Satisfied Customers and a Satisfied Founder

When Andrew takes a look at all the photos that have been generated by users, he gets a great deal of satisfaction.”Thinking through that this many people actually gave their time to participate in something that I created, that is pretty insane to think about!” he says. 

Mentioned in this Article

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Peter Markham is an award-winning journalist and writer. He began his career working for ABC News in London and Paris before moving to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation where he spent many years covering big foreign stories like the revolution in Romania, the end of apartheid in South Africa and the first Gulf War. After a stint with the international news agency AP, he then joined the BBC in London where he had a long and successful career as an Executive Producer on some of the station's flagship news shows. He now works as a freelance writer for an eclectic mix of websites, online magazines and journals.

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