One in three Americans has a chronic condition where food is part of the standard of care. For low-income households, meeting these needs is often difficult not only from an affordability standpoint, but also due to the fact that specialized foods may not always be available in their community. After her experience struggling to meet the needs of two daughters with chronic conditions and special dietary requirements while on SNAP and WIC, Emily Brown began the nonprofit Food Equality Initiative to help get special dietary foods into food banks and food pantries. In 2021, in order to help scale this work, Brown launched Free From Market, an online platform allowing families to order groceries that meet their dietary needs. 

Free from Market allows its users to choose from over 2000 foods that have been curated to ensure that they are healthy, nutrient dense, and appropriate for those with food allergies, celiac disease, or other special dietary requirements. Users can filter foods by allergen and by certification, and the platform is in the process of adding additional nutrition tags to give users more options for filtering through foods. Fresh produce is also available through the platform, and medically tailored meals are being integrated through Fresh From Market’s supply chain partners. 

Groceries purchased through Free From Market are delivered directly to the door, with all supply chain partners integrated directly into the platform rather than being handled by an outside service like Instacart or Amazon Fresh. This integration is valuable in rural communities where specialized foods may not always be available through other services. 

Free from Market is primarily targeting individuals who receive subsidies through their health provider or through community based organizations. Free From Market has partnered with Find Help, a social referral platform, to allow clinical partners an easy way to set users up with an automatic monthly credit after determining their eligibility. Users are then free to shop using that credit, or to input their debit card information if they want to purchase items beyond that amount.

Free From Market is also launching a nutritional education and coaching program to help provide referred patients with both asynchronous and live content from registered dieticians. These coaches will help with meal planning as well as improving individuals’ general nutritional literacy. The nutritional program is available in both English and Spanish, and users and coaching will be matched in a way to ensure that coaches and users share a common cultural context for the food they are preparing. 

Free From Market gathers data about its users in a HIPAA-compliant closed loop system to allow payers, patients, and healthcare providers to be able to track usage and outcomes. With existing systems that rely on making referrals to pantries or grocery stores with gift cards, it is impossible to know whether the individuals are receiving the foods they need. With Free From Market’s system, this data can be made available in a HIPPA-compliant way. 

Based on early analysis of data from their users, Free From Market has found that 50% of participants felt more confident in preparing healthier meals for themselves and their children. Free From Market is hoping to continue gathering data on health outcomes through their platforms to publish and inform research on the impact of their services. 

Free From Market has received funding from the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund. The platform is launching first in Ohio and Georgia, but is hoping to expand to other markets including in the Kansas City metro soon. Eventually Free From Market hopes to expand to the direct-to-consumer market, but for now is focused on the subsidized market and eventually offer institutional purchasing options to food banks, food pantries, community colleges, and other organizations serving individuals with the need for healthy meals. 

Emily Brown, Founder and CEO of Free From Market, presented to the KC Digital Drive Health Innovation Team on December 14, 2022.

Further Reading