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Food Week

Friday Is Peak Sandwich, And Other Big-Data Insights About Our Eating Habits

What food do people avoid on Mondays? Which ingredient dramatically increases orders? Maple's CEO tells all.

Friday Is Peak Sandwich, And Other Big-Data Insights About Our Eating Habits
[Photo: Celine Grouard for Fast Company]

New York food-delivery service Maple has quickly become a favorite of Manhattan's option-starved office workers, who are increasingly eager to spend $12—tax and tip included—on an ever-rotating selection of high-quality salads, sandwiches, and entrees. Backed by Momofuku star David Chang (read our recent in-depth profile here), Maple offers a sleek, easy-to-use app that serves as both a ordering system and, for the company, a trove of useful information.

"We've done something like 700 different recipes at this point, so there's a lot of data to look through," says Maple CEO Caleb Merkl, who launched the company last April with cofounder and COO Akshay Navle. "A big thing that we're still trying to figure out is nailing the mix [of daily offerings] and nailing forecasting. Based on the number of meals we've done at this point, we have a pretty big data set around [user] ratings." Customers can rate every dish in the app, using a five-star system similar to Uber's. "Sometimes things will come back, five, five, five, five, five," says Merkl. "But the thing with food is that you are never going to keep everyone happy, right? Even on those dishes, people come in and say, 'too salty,' 'not salty enough,' whatever. But when a dish really fails we see it pretty universally. So we have a pretty rigorous testing process at this point. Our goal is to get things on the menu that people always love."

Caleb Merkl

Because they look so carefully at the data, Merkl and his team have identified some unexpected trends. We asked Merkl to walk us through a few things he's learned:

Why Chicken Is The Early-Week Champ

After a weekend of eating out at restaurants, drinking too much booze, and other less-than-healthy activities, customers often try to rein it in when they head back to work at the start of the week. "People start the week out making great choices," says Merkl. "Interest in our meals that feature a lean meat, like chicken, come into the week strong, with Monday being their biggest day." By Friday, orders of chicken-based entrees are down 38% from the Monday number.

The BBQ Berkshire pork sandwich, one of Maple's dishesPhoto: courtesy of Maple

When Sandwiches Score

Late in the week, what do people order instead of the chicken? Often, it comes in the middle of some kind of bread. "It seems people might be trading those lean proteins for a more satisfying sandwich," says Merkl. "We see the reverse trend happen: Monday represents the lowest day of sandwich interest, but sandwich stock continues to rise steadily throughout the week, peaking 42% above Monday's number" on Friday. And it's not just a weekly phenomenon: The same thing happens throughout the year. "In January, we saw that sandwiches just went completely out of favor," Merkl says. "Because of New Year's resolutions, probably."

The One Product That Always Spurs Sales

If you want to guarantee a dish gets clicks, just add some slices of everyone's favorite savory green fruit. "People. Love. Avocado," says Merkl. "Items with avocado do, on average, 21% better than their avocado-less equivalent—across all days."

Another Irresistible Ingredient

For vegetarian dishes, adding tofu has a similar effect. "We see at 29% increase in demand for vegetarian dishes featuring tofu when compared to vegetarian dishes sans tofu," Merkl says.

For more on how Maple is shaking up the boring office lunch, read our story on the growing empire of superstar chef David Chang.

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