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HomeRuns founder launching new food delivery service in Cambridge and Arlington

Posted by Scott Kirsner  February 22, 2012 11:32 AM

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Update: Of Course Meals discontinued its service in September 2012, and Furber is now a vice president at Care.com.

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Would you make meals at home more often if you could do it like a Food Network star, with the fish already filleted, the carrots julienned and ready, and the knowledge that every required seasoning was within arm's reach?

That's the premise of a new Cambridge start-up, Of Course Meals, which is cranking up operations this week. The company delivers a bag of prepped ingredients to your home on Sunday evening. Inside the bag are the items you need to make two, three, or four meals for a family of four. The proposition is that you spend less time grocery shopping, and less time cooking (the meals take about a half-hour to cook), but still provide healthy, home-cooked food for your family. The pricing starts at $60 a week, which covers two dinners for four people. Consumers get to choose whether the meals feature beef, chicken, seafood, or just veggies. The dishes, which include coconut curry chicken and Asian salmon, sound pretty tasty. (It's also getting close to lunchtime...)

"Our mission is that we want to make it easier for families to enjoy meals together, and remove some of the stress for working parents, who tend to start worrying about what's for dinner every weekday around 3 p.m.," says Tom Furber, chief executive of Of Course. "No one wants to come home to hungry kids and chaos."

The company is launching its delivery service in Cambridge and Arlington. (If you order by midnight tonight, you can be part of the first wave of deliveries this Sunday.) You can order week by week, or save a little money by signing up for an on-going subscription.

Of Course's seed funding comes from Scott Johnson at the Cambridge office of New Atlantic Ventures. That money — a couple hundred thousand, according to Johnson — will support the start-up through its first few months of operations. (Johnson tells me he has been testing the service with his family: "They are recipes I wouldn't have thought to make on my own, expanding my repertoire.")

Furber was one of the pioneers of Internet grocery delivery in the 1990s, when he helped the Hannaford Bros. chain launch HomeRuns. (I first met him in 1999, when I wrote about the business in Wired.) He has been chief operating officer of the Cambridge Innovation Center, and also a co-founder of Farmers to You, a Vermont-based food delivery service that brings farm-raised meat, dairy, and produce to city-dwellers around Boston.

Of Course, he says, "is not nearly as capital-intensive as a business like HomeRuns" — which Hannaford shut down in 2001 — "and we're also lucky that e-commerce and ordering food online aren't a new thing for people," Furber says. "When we started HomeRuns in 1996, everything was brand new for our customers." Working alongside Furber at Of Course is another HomeRuns veteran, Alison Berglund.

The concept of delivering prepped ingredients for home cooking originates in Sweden, Furber says, with companies like Linas Matkasse and Middagsfrid. New York is also home to start-ups in the space, including 19 Charles Street and Freshocracy. Furber started exploring the concept and putting together the Of Course team last fall.

"Our goal is to be affordable and healthy," Furber says. "A lot of what is in the market today is not particularly affordable. And our target is to eliminate some of the last-minute grocery shopping people do for specific meals."

He says the company will "make sure we've got things nailed down" in the Boston area, starting with Cambridge and Arlington, before expanding to other cities. But "we're always looking for growth opportunities," he says.

I'm eager to try it...

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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