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Marine who hates grocery shopping says he’ll help you make dinner

Power Pitch

Nick Taranto hates grocery shopping, and like most of us, he can’t afford to dine out every night, so answering the dreaded question, “What’s for dinner?” became a real challenge for him.

For a while, Taranto just ordered lots of greasy take-out but then, he says, he got fat. And that’s when the former Marine and Harvard Business grad set out to turn the common dinner dilemma into a big money maker.

“We’re on a mission to help Americans eat better,” said Taranto. “The food system in America is stodgy, opaque and incredibly wasteful.”

Now Taranto knows exactly what’s for dinner, and he believes his start-up, Plated, will not only eliminate annoying trips to the grocery store but also change how people all across America put dinner on the table.

CNBC gave Taranto 60 seconds to dish out his big idea to see if he could convince YOU and a panel of judges he has the recipe to make millions and that his company knows exactly what you want to eat tonight! Watch the video to and judge for yourself.

Point, click, and plate

Taranto and his Harvard buddy and co-founder, Josh Hix, are no top chefs, (we’ve seen Nick cook, so we can confirm his culinary skills are nothing to write home about) but they’ve teamed up with some foodies to create an online dinner destination designed to cut time-consuming grocery shopping out of the equation and help people cook and eat healthier.

Here’s how it works: the Plated service offers an online dinner menu with seven recipe options that change weekly, ranging from panko dusted fish tacos to pimiento cheeseburger sliders to shrimp pad thai.

Users click on a meal and add the number of servings they want to a virtual basket, checkout and request a delivery date. On the other end, the team at Plated packs up the exact premeasured fresh ingredients required to make it and ships it to your doorstep in an insulated box that keeps it fresh. The “dinner-kit,” as the company calls it, includes a recipe card that shows you exactly what’s for dinner (with pictures) and a step-by-step guide of how to prepare it. It even includes a list of the pots and pans you’ll need, along with a hashtag for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for people to share and check out what's cooking (search for the #platedpics to see what other customers are cooking up). About the only thing Plated doesn’t include is salt and pepper.

While the service eliminates the need to hit the grocery store to shop for dinner, you still have to cook the meal. The site lists prep times from 30-40 minutes and labels meals as “easy” or “medium,” depending on difficulty.

“We've got folks who never cooked before all the way to the seasoned chef who's looking to spice things up. So we like to say we take you from zero to kitchen hero,” Taranto said.

The check please …

The start-up charges $15 per serving with a two-serving minimum per meal and requires orders of at least four servings per delivery, which is free. The company also generates revenue through a $10 per month membership fee that allows users to purchase meals at a member rate of $12 per serving.

The company’s delivery areas currently cover 90 percent of the country. But Taranto says Plated isn’t just a food delivery service, it’s a rising e-commerce company he sees as more Amazon (AMZN) than Whole Foods (WFM).

“We are building a multibillion dollar business, and our vision goes far beyond meal kits,” said Taranto.

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Recipe for success?

Chef/restaurateur and “Power Pitch” panelist Barbara Lynch, a James Beard Award winner, remained skeptical as she questioned Taranto on the competition. “What about Pea Pod, personal chefs … farmer's markets?” asked Lynch.

Taranto responded that the at-home food market in the U.S. is a trillion-dollar-a-year business and there's space for multiple hundred-billion-dollar businesses to grow.

“Whether that be chipping off from grocery, chipping off from eating out, chipping off from ready-made, chipping off from delivery, we think there's a huge opportunity to build, chipping off from those different niches,” said Taranto.

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One of Plated’s direct competitors is Blue Apron, a similar online service that delivers ready-to-cook dinners with a weekly subscription fee and meals starting at $9.99. Blue Apron was founded in 2012 and is backed by $8 million in funding.

Power Pitch panelist Gary Vaynerchuck, serial entrepreneur and investor, questioned Taranto about the percentage of customers who stick with Plated once they start using the dinner service.

“Like any subscription business or any business where you have customers coming through the front door and you're expecting a retention curve from them, we see an initial drop-off. But then after we get our customers through the second or third purchase, they stay with us,” Taranto answered.

While Taranto would not say exactly how many customers his company serves, he did reveal it was in the tens of thousands and that membership service is growing at almost 40 percent each month since its 2012 launch.

Plated has raised $3.5 million from investors including Founder Collective, Lerer Ventures, and ff Venture Capital. It has 23 full- time employees and is headquartered in New York.

Watch the video and see for yourself if Plated has what it takes to change dinner. Taranto faced Power Pitch panelists Gary Vaynerchuck @garyvee, Chef Barbara Lynch @barbaralynchbos, and Mandy Drury @mandycnbc, CNBC host.

--Additional reporting by Erin Barry & Ray Parisi

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