the changing world of Food

HowgoodI am seeing a variety of business plans in the food space.  I believe some make sense for now while others are are a reach.  Of course that is my own humble opinion.  Many of them might be stepping stones to changes that will take place in an efficient cost effective way while others are just huge labor, low margins businesses that I don't see myself getting involved in.  Regardless, it is exciting to see so many people thinking about the food we put on our table and particularly understanding what we are consuming.

Mark Bittman wrote an op-ed post a few weeks ago about what his ideal label would like.  Everything should be told about what we are eating. I agree with that.  I would like to know if the food is being sourced from a reliable source, that the ingredients are fresh, if they treat their employees with care, if they give to non-profit organizations, if they are not full of articial ingredients, etc.  I could go on and on. 

Here is what I do know that this is not an app business.  This is something that has to be read at the point of sale, right on the box.  People are not going to walk down an aisle and scan their product or look it up while they shop.  There are just some things that will remain the same such as shopping down a supermarket aisle and when you reach for a product you should be able to find out information right then and there on the store price tag/label.

Another thing is that information helps stores accumulate data about what their customers are buying.  That is powerful information.  Maybe they would find out that they are selling 3 types of crackers much better with a quicker turn than the 5 they carry now when they make that information available to their consumer.  It will allow the store to make better buying decisions for their customer and in turn becoming better businesses.

I am invested in a company doing just that.  How Good.  When we saw Bittmans article, Alexander the CEO wrote a letter to the NYTimes stating that we were doing just what Bittman was hoping to see. Yet to be published but we will see.  Just in case it doesn't, I have inserted the letter below.

There is a lot ideas and businesses that are looking for funding to grow and I don't see many of them actually being able to scale.  How Good…I believe that this one is a winner in the food space for the consumer and the companies that use their technology. 

Here is Alexanders leter to the editor of the New York Times:

To the Editor:

special thank you to Mr. Bittman for his excellent article encouraging
Americans to think critically about how our food is labeled. It’s
especially personal for us- our organization HowGood, Inc. independently
rates the sustainability of food products. We’ve been working on our
label since 2006, and we’ve been buying different milk ever since.

believe that there is one critical question shoppers should ask
themselves: how good is the food that I’m buying for my family, my
environment, and the world? We agree with Mr. Bittman that in order to
answer that, we have to take a company’s commitment to environmental
friendliness, labor relations, and animal welfare into consideration. We
can’t neglect growing practices, food processing, and ingredient
sourcing. And we certainly can’t leave out nutrition.

the past six years we’ve researched all these metrics and more to come
up with a simple score for over 105,000 food products. The score is
embedded into the price tag of every product that passes our baseline
for “good.” (And in case you’re curious and in need of a sobering fact,
that’s less than 50% of whatever is in your basket).

the most interesting aspect of food labeling is one that Mr. Bittman
fails to touch on- the ability of sustainable food labeling to
fundamentally change the food industry. We’re in this business because
we believe that legitimate change happens when people power and
purchasing power intersect. A food product rated “great” averages an
increase in sales of 26%. That’s a huge loss
for its competitor, who is forced to recognize that their customers
actually care about sustainability. When that company calls us asking
what changes they can make to increase their rating, we feel pretty good
for the day. And when no one calls us anymore, because shoppers and
their food choices have edged out animal cruelty, poor farming
practices, and refined foods, our job will be done.

Mr. Bittman concludes that the main point in sustainable food labeling is: let’s get started. We already have.


The HowGood Team

Comments (Archived):

  1. fredwilson

    i would hedge my bets on whether or not this is an app business if i were the how good team. everyone has a phone on them. every phone can scan a bar code. that may not be the way everyone will do this but it is the way that the youngsters will do it. think of it like netflix. dvds for some, streaming for others. that’s how i would go to market if i were the how good team

    1. falicon

      I don’t know that an app is essential, but I think it could be high value add for consumers for sure…if for no other reason than there is/will be a massive education effort that needs to go into the general public understanding the ‘score’.Having the score on the label, and a way to quickly get more details on how that score was calculated and what it actually means (as well as maybe what other options are higher score or in the sim. range) seems like it would go a long long way to gaining interest/attention from consumers.Also I imagine that it’s the younger, smartphone, demo that is actually the most concerned and interested in a program like this gaining adoption (I think the older groups mostly have their buying habits and routines built in now)

    2. ChuckEats

      or go through the back door – make a KID’S APP that gives them something to do while the parents are shopping. make it a game, make it educational, & possibly effect change

  2. takingpitches

    I think “labeling” is def a 3rd party solution outside the actual food labels because the big food manufacturers have a limited interest, and the government is too captured by the manufacturers and the incumbent interests to change its absurd label. (if you read Michael Pollan, the existing labels, even in terms of just nutrition angle, are completely useless because he argues the whole notion of “nutrients’ existing independently of the whole foodstuff is pointless, i.e. getting Vitamin C from a pill is not the same as getting it from an orange regardless of what labels might say.)Going to a 3rd party is something that I think people will do. I agree with Fred above in terms of thinking of it generationally. Also, I consult rottentomatoes before going to see a movie for the freshness aggregated score, people consult consumer reports before making a big tangible purchase, etc.As more and more people buy food online, the third party labeling can gain traction through a partnership with Amazon for example. Or within stores, you can try partnering with Dunn Humby (sp) or the other data companies that run the various grocery rewards program.

    1. bsoist

      Absolutely agree. I scan bar codes all the time while shopping non-food products. I agree that the products should be labeled better by the companies that sell them, but there is certainly a market for more information from a third ( neutral ? ) party.

      1. Gotham Gal

        I believe that 3rd party is key. In regards to an app vs a label at point of purchase most make sense. The majority of people doing the grocery shopping are not using a phone but down the line that might be an issue.

        1. bsoist

          It’s a matter of motivation. I scan codes when buying stuff and I want to compare prices. I suspect most people don’t have the same motivation to check the ingredients. I know I don’t. But the right kind of app might make me think differently about it.

  3. SLS

    I like the concept. How about an app that worked like SoundHound; snap a photo of the product and it’s ‘rating’ and other relevant information popped up immediately.

  4. William Mougayar

    I’ve met Alexander & love that HowGood is shining a new transparency on these food products with their innovative labeling. Let the good stuff rise to the top!But the root of the problem is that there is far too much processed foods, and the food supply chains are getting longer & more complicated. This causes increased processing, additional preservatives & non-organic growth methods. If all the foods we ate were wholesome, local, organic & with very little to no-processing, that would be even more ideal. I think the HowGood labeling is definitely a big step in raising awareness & education levels for the consumer.