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NatureBox chews on $8.5M to tackle obesity epidemic with healthier snacks

Snacks are helping make America fat. Most snack food in America is junk, loaded with empty calories, salt, sugar, and unhealthy oils, and once you open that bag of chips or box of cookies, it’s hard to stop.

NatureBox is addressing this issue with an online subscription service for healthier snack food. Today the company announced closing $8.5 million to make eating well in-between meals easier.

NatureBox delivers boxes filled with nutritionist-approved healthy snacks every month for $20. Each box contains five full-sized snack items, free from high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats, and artificial sweeteners, flavors, and colors. NatureBox produces all the food itself and gets ingredients from local growers and independent food producers. The assortment generally includes a range of sweet and salty snacks based on a seasonal theme. Treats include various kinds of granolas, trail mixes, fruit and vegetable chips, and nut- and seed-based snacks.

“We started NatureBox to disrupt the grocery industry that has devolved into a sea of too many choices,” said CEO Gautam Gupta to VentureBeat. “We think having more items on shelf isn’t the answer to consumer needs – we believe that through data, we can create a much more personal shopping experience for consumers and give consumers products that they will love.”

Market research firm IRI found that 49 percent of the population has one to two snacks a day while 43 percent have three to four, and 60 percent of consumers snack for enjoyment. Whether it is to satisfy hunger, boost energy, out of boredom, or in a social setting, Americans consume almost 25 percent of their daily calories from snacking, and most of these foods consist of empty calories. Snacking is a major cause of childhood obesity, which has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. One-third of children and adolescents are overweight and obese in the U.S.

While unhealthy snacks contribute to weight gain, healthy snacks are part of an overall healthy diet. Health experts have found that small, nutritious snacks speed up your metabolism and curb hunger and consumers are growing more aware of how to eat well.  THe IRI study found that 87 percent of consumers said they are trying to eat healthier, and sales for natural and organic snacks are on the rise. This is where NatureBox steps in. If you are going to snack, might as well get some actual nutrients while you are at it.

Food startups are beginning to tackle how we eat from various angles. Love with Food, Pop-Up Pantry, Hello Fresh, and Hungry Globetrotter all deliver food to your door. Some streamline grocery shopping, and others make home cooking easier.

Since launching in 2012, NatureBox has shipped 50,000 boxes to its customers and is on track to ship over 1 million annual shipments by the end of this year. It is adding in five to 10 new products a month and currently offers 80 items. Its business model seems difficult to scale, since the supply chain requires actually finding, manufacturing, packing, and delivering consumer goods.  This round of funding will help NatureBox expand its customer base and meet demand for the service.

General Catalyst Partners led this first institutional round, following an initial seed investment last year. New investor Softbank Capital also participated. This brings NatureBox’s total capital raised to $10.5 million. It is based in San Carlos, Calif.