A Hamburg native who has made a name for himself on the West Coast with an online company that helps users make better eating choices has joined forces with Independent Health to bring the technology to Western New York.
Zipongo uses artificial intelligence to provide nutritional coaching, meal planning and other tools that make it easier to select, purchase and prepare healthy foods.
Google and IBM are among companies that provide the technology to their employees through their health insurance plans.
It will be rolled out in the coming days to all Independent Health commercial individual and group members, as well as self-funded employer groups. Members can log in through independenthealth.com and use the service free.
"You don't want to be reminded every time you buy food that you need to lose weight or you're diabetic. You just want a tool that's going to help you get food on the table every night in a way that is going to be easier and meet the different taste preferences of you, your kids and your spouse – all the while having your back and helping you live as well as possible," said Jason Langheier, who created Zipongo in 2011.
Its features include:
• NutriQuiz, which helps users give a measure of their eating habits and allergies, and builds healthier choices based on the user's preferences.
• A feature that allows users to look up and use healthy recipes, build a shopping list and develop a meal calendar through "drop-and-drag" technology. This includes a list of which stores in the region have the required ingredients, including potential price deals.
• A link in which users can order home grocery delivery.
• Soon, a link which allows users to order delivered meal kits.
"We effectively create a food marketplace that attaches to a food dietitian," said Langheier, a Hamburg High School alumnus who also graduated from Duke Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
He created two companies while in school before he launched Zipongo as his third start-up, this one in San Francisco, where he lives with his wife, Louise, and their two sons.
Zipongo will join two similar digital personal assistants: Brook, designed to help those with diabetes better manage the condition; and FitWorks, which offers monthly rewards for those who keep, and track, good wellness habits. The insurer also provides members a Healthy Options link on its website, and about two years ago it partnered with Tops Markets on a rewards program that provides incentives for those who buy more fruits and vegetables.
"We think of all of these things as further extensions of offerings to our members," said Tom Kingsley, Independent Health vice president for customer experience. "For those who want to engage in their nutrition, there's a variety of ways to do so.
"It's all about personalization, getting to know and understand you. One size never fits all, so we're trying to meet our members where they are."
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon