With an eye on the food allergy community as a unique group of consumers since 2008, we're on a quest to find and share ways to continue enjoying the good things in life.

30 March 2009

Foodessentials Simplifies Food Label Reading

Have you visited Foodessentials.com? It's a new website which features a huge ingredient database based on data from food labels, gathered and organized over the last 4 years. You can search for food, such as bread, and add a filter, such as dairy, to generate a list of breads that contain dairy, may contain dairy, or do not contain dairy. Instead of spending time looking at the labels of multiple packages at the store, you can sort through your options on the web. You can search by allergen, preservatives, fat content and other filters. Of course, you should still verify the food is right for your needs by reading the labels on the foods you select at the store. Manufacturers do change recipes and manufacturing procedures constantly, so the label you can read in person is the most accurate. What a time saver Foodessentials could be! It could really help simplify finding "safe" foods at the grocery store. Imagine if it were available on your cellphone or at the supermarket. Food allergic individuals and others on restricted diets could quickly weed through the many product choices and come up with a short list with just a few clicks.

The possibilities are exciting! Anton Xavier, one of Foodessential's founders, was kind enough to answer a few questions about Foodessentials and where it's headed. Foodessentials is in its beta form--they're tweaking it, making improvements, and would love to hear from you. Stop by foodessentials.com and give it a try.

Q & A with Anton Xavier, Foodessentials

How long have you been in the U.S.?
We brought Foodessentials to the U.S. in May 2008 and have spent our time since then networking within the Consumer Package Goods (CPG) industry making contacts with manufacturers, retailers, and online grocers, as well as CPG marketing companies.

Foodessentials was initially conceived in Australia back in 2005 and has travelled a long hard and varied road before landing squarely on two feet in Chicago.

Why Chicago?
Our U.S based partner and CIO Dheeraj Patri is based in Chicago and so it was always where we were going to set up base in the U.S. It just so happened that it was a great city to set up for our industry due to its close proximity to companies such as Peapod, Kraft and others.

Where will you head next?
The U.S was always recognized as the most advantageous place for us to commercialize the technology that we had developed. With over 300 million people compared to Australia’s 20 million, it made a lot more sense to at some point bring it here. Our next most obvious market is the U.K and Europe as a whole. The food marketing, specific dietary needs, and online grocery market is well developed and sophisticated in the U.K.

How did you get started in this field?

This started as a family project several years ago. Our father, whilst attempting to implement a change in his diet, found it incredibly difficult to compare food labels in his local supermarket and so decided to do something about it. It began as a pet project but the more we spoke to people and the more we learnt about the data and the issues surrounding the data – particularly in regard to the allergen community - the larger it became. Since then we’ve worked with a vast number of consumer advocacy groups, health professionals, government organizations, retailers and manufacturers in both Australia and the U.S and have gained an expert knowledge of the issues surrounding food labeling which is evident in the comprehensive nature of our ingredient database.

Why the interest in food labels?

Food has always played a significant role in the culture of our family and so we have always naturally been aware of the change in modern food consumption patterns and the increase in consumer packaged goods. But as we learnt more about the issues surrounding food labels and the complexity of the solutions required we realized that there was an opportunity for us to become a small part of the solution. We felt that a tool that enabled people to effectively compare the foods of their local store to easily find the products that suited their specific dietary needs could really make a positive impact in the lives of many people.

Since the initial concept we’ve had the privilege to meet with hundreds of people who told us their lives would be considerably improved if Foodessentials succeeded. We strongly believe in what we do, that has been our motivating factor

When do you expect Foodessentials to be complete?

We believe it is one of those things that will never be truly complete, there will always be ways to better the quality of the data, or the way it is communicated. We’re very excited about the potential for positive change that Foodessentials may have but at the same time are very realistic about the challenges that we face in the near future.

We expect to officially launch Foodessentials.com by the end of April 2009, by which time we hope to at least have a service that can go someway towards helping people to find the foods that better suit their dietary needs.

Is it something we can expect to see on sites like Peapod?
We hope so. We have spoken and are speaking to several companies like this, all of whom are very interested in the comprehensive nature of our data. Right now however, we still have the challenge of proving what we’re doing right now, which is getting the word out there about Foodessentials.com. We’re very focused on learning to walk before we try to run.

Will it be available in supermarkets?

This is our ultimate aim. To combine the power of information on the internet with the practicality of being in the shop whilst physically touching and holding products -this would be very exciting. And although there are several opportunities along these lines on the horizon we’re keeping our heads down and bums up for the time being and are hoping the hard work will reap its rewards further down the line. But we believe it won’t be long before you will see this information in a store near you. In the meantime if you’d like to help get us in your local store mention us to your store manager – we’ll be happy to pursue it.

Will there be a way to search by manufacturer to see, for example, which products a manufacturer makes that contain peanuts or nuts?
We have been very diligent in the way we have built our backend. Enterprise level scalability and flexibility has been our main goal. Because of this there are many very powerful things that we can do including what you suggest. And we hope to get to that soon. However, right now, we are focused on trying to get our core functionality - the search results and basic features - working really well before we look at expanding out. Which is why we’re running this beta test period – we’re looking for as much feedback, ideas and suggestions as possible to ensure we get it right. It’s not a simple thing to get people to do something they’ve never done before. It’s totally new and so there are no rules. Because of that we need your help.

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