Bay Area-based Zipongo wants more Americans to see food as medicine. Healthcare investors, corporate America are on board

By Adi Menayang contact

- Last updated on GMT

Bay Area-based Zipongo wants more Americans to see food as medicine
With millions of dollars from multiple healthcare- and digital space-focused venture capital firms, Bay Area-based Zipongo is poised to help more Americans eat healthier.

At first glance, Zipongo​ may look like any of the other nutrition-tracking, meal-planning, menu-saving apps or web platforms abound.

But it is differentiating itself by riding on the personalized nutrition trend, using biometric indicators to create bespoke plans (ranging from tailored shopping lists to restaurant menu analyses), and, perhaps most distinguishing of all, its approach of being part of an employee benefit to employers.

“Individuals can sign up, but there’s obviously a critical mass you can get when you sign contracts with corporations, so that’s the direction we’re focusing on at this point,” ​Dr Dexter Shurney, MD, newly appointed chief medical officer and senior VP of clinical affairs at Zipongo, told NutraIngredients-USA.

Dr Shurney came on board two months ago, when the position was created from scratch, bringing with him years of experience in healthcare management and policy. This included stints as chief medical director for global benefits at Fortune 500 company Cummins, Inc., chief medical director of the employee health plan for Vanderbilt University and Medical Center, and chief medical officer and VP of medical affairs at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Not just preventive, treatment too

Founded in 2011, Zipongo’s digital nutrition platform provides personalized meal recommendations based on biometrics like blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body composition mixed with an individual user’s food preference.

As smartphones increasingly become a daily necessity, the company claims that its app can assist users with their food decisions at multiple points throughout the day—at home, at work, at the supermarket, and at restaurants.

It already has around 270 corporations as clients in the US, but this year, the company is looking to expand further, both in terms of its reach as well as the services it provides.

“It goes beyond just prevention,” ​Dr Shurney said. “We can also use it as treatment. It helps an individual, based on whatever their issues are…what changes they need to make and how to make those changes sustainable.”

Shurney_Dexter (2)
Dr. Dexter Shurney, MD, chief medical officer and senior VP of clinical affairs at Zipongo

In January, Zipongo raised $18 million in additional funding, bringing its total Series B to $36 million. Investors included microbiome-focused venture capital firm Seventure Partners​, as well as Zaffre Investments​, the investment fund of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

These additional funds will help with the launch of FoodScripts, a service which will “enable physicians to offer prescriptive, personalized, evidence-based nutrition programs to address chronic conditions,”​ according to Jason Langheier, founder and CEO of Zipongo.

That’s where Dr Shurney comes in. In his role as the new CMO, he will be responsible in making sure "the program really is evidence-based,"​ he said. He’ll work with a nutrition and clinical team, and build relationships with other CMOs.

He’ll particularly look at the impact of Zipongo Engage on eating behavior, and the return-on-investment for payers.

“There’s a benefit for everyone,” ​Dr Shurney said about the platform. “For the individual, they get healthier, their family gets healthier. And for the providers, because they’re trying to get their patients to do the right thing, and it’s always been a struggle. So now I have this tool as a provider that I can put in the hands of my patients.”

“Third, look at health plans and employers, corporations—they’re on the hook oftentimes for cost of care. If you can use the patient’s engagement and provider’s engagement working together in synergy, you can over time lower costs.” ​The company estimates that every $1 invested in corporate wellness yields $6 in corporate savings.

A new role for microbiome?

Seventure Partners, which invested $9 million in Zipongo in the Series B Round, puts emphasis on microbiome research and innovation. In 2017, it invested in Israel-based personalized nutrition microbiome app company DayTwo​.

When asked whether or not this investment means microbiome analysis may play a bigger role in Zipongo’s products, Dr. Shurney said “I hope so!”

“There’s a lot of good research that shows we are our microbiome. The health of our microbiome really extends to the health of the overall human. And we know that changes in diet can affect the microbiome.”

“I can’t tell you when, I can’t even tell you for sure, but I can tell you that I hope we can do that down the road, that would be wonderful.”

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