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Wonder, the upscale, made-to-order food truck business that is majority-owned by serial digital entrepreneur Marc Lore, is "planning a massive expansion, with hundreds of millions of dollars from investors, to go from 60 trucks today to more than 1,000 by the end of 2022," the Washington Post reports.

Lore, of course, is known as the person who has made hundreds of millions of dollars, first by building Quidsi and selling it to Amazon and then building Jet and selling it to Walmart.  MNB reported earlier this year that Lore had invested "an undisclosed amount" in Wonder, which its founder, Scott Hilton, described as being a "part food truck, part ghost kitchen" business.  Hilton is former colleague of Lore's from their time together running Walmart's e-commerce business in the US.

The Post reports that Wonder has been testing out its concept - "showing up at people’s houses to cook them food at their curb when beckoned through a smartphone application" - in suburban New Jersey, but now its leadership has judged it ready for a broader rollout.  "Wonder plans to focus its near-term expansion mostly on the suburbs of greater New York City, where Lore grew up," the Post writes.  "In the long term, Lore and Hilton say the business is structured to operate efficiently nationwide, setting up a handful of large commissaries that can serve multiple cities, with trucks having to make only periodic trips back to central facilities to stock up. Wonder’s model has the potential to be more profitable than the notoriously low-margin app-based delivery business, they said, because of this vertical integration."

Here's how the service works, according to the Post:

"One of Wonder’s first moves was to strike deals with prominent restaurants, including Bobby Flay Steak and Nancy Silverton’s Pizzeria Mozza, or working directly with high-profile chefs like Marcus Samuelsson to develop Wonder-exclusive brands. Generally, delivery networks pitch restaurants on the chance to reach new customers, then earn money by taking a fee on each delivery.  Wonder, by contrast, pays restaurant owners and chefs a single fee for the exclusive right to act as the off-premise arms of their business … Once Wonder has gotten a restaurant on board, its own chefs — it currently has about 60 on staff — work with the restaurants to create a version of the food that can be made quickly in the back of its mobile kitchens.

"The food is partially prepared in a centralized facility, a 40,000-square foot kitchen that Wonder refers to as its commissary. Then, a customized Mercedes Sprinter van, or 'mobile kitchen,' is dedicated to each restaurant, staffed by a single employee who responds to orders made through Wonder’s app. The driver travels to the destination, parks at the curb, heats up the food in specialized ovens, and carries it to the customer’s front door. Wonder says its target delivery time is about 30 to 40 minutes."

Some background context from the Post piece:

"The company has raised  an astonishing amount of money for a food truck business that currently covers a geographic area with about 17,000 households. Lore declined to comment on Wonder’s fundraising or finances, but two people familiar with the company say it has raised over $500 million from investors including NEA, Accel and Alphabet Inc.’s GV; one of them said that about $100 million of that is structured as debt that could be converted to equity.

"Lore started Wonder in 2018 while he was an e-commerce executive at Walmart. He had his brother, Chad, take the lead at the company until Scott Hilton, who has worked with Lore since the days, took over as chief executive officer in 2019. Lore had been acting primarily as an advisor, but is now joining the company as the CEO and chairman of parent company Wonder Group, which will focus on building a business-to-business meal kit service and expanding internationally."

KC's View:

Several things occur to me about this story.

I think it is smart for the company to be thinking about this in terms of feeding people, which seems to be a greater focus than the technology underpinnings that support it.  That's important - it combines positive elements of various food acquisition experiences in a way that seems relatively unique, and is geared to undermine the value proposition offered by restaurants' take-out businesses and supermarkets' foodservice operations.

I'm not sure how the economics are going to play out … and, let's face it, Lore is really good at starting up businesses that may not be able to survive long-term on their own, but find new life when acquired by much bigger companies.  (Though they don't tend to survive as standalone entities, as their operations are absorbed into the larger companies' infrastructures.)  Which, of course, raises another possibility - that this business is being built to be acquired by a much larger entity.

Regardless, this strikes me as a big swing by Lore and his compatriots, which is typical.  As the Post notes, Lore's "side hustle is a plan to build a 5-million person city operating under a new form of communalist capitalism from scratch. His goals for Wonder fit into the same audacious scale."