FoodLogiQ, the Durham-based platform that helps food industry professionals trace their supply chains, just raised $19.5 million in their most recent funding round. This comes a few months after they snagged $4.25 million in Series B funding in September 2017, a round that was led by Renewal Funds, a mission-based venture capital firm based in Vancouver, B.C.
In this latest round, Renewal Funds was joined by Testo, Tyson Ventures, Pontifax AgTech, Nicola Wealth Management and Greenhouse Capital. This marks yet another investment in food tech startups by Tyson Ventures, who has recently contributed funds to smart oven and meal company Tovala and lab-grown meat startup Memphis Meats. It also comes roughly one month after FoodLogiQ announced their partnership with Testo, which, among other things, added temperature monitoring capabilities to their platform.
In a press release, FoodLogiQ said they would use the funding to grow customer support, increase R&D, and accelerate product enhancements.
Founded in 2006, FoodLogiQ is a cloud-based supplier transparency solution which aims for “farm to fork traceability” in the food supply chain. It does this by offering three products within its SaaS platform (called FoodLogiQ Connect): one which verifies suppliers’ information, one which traces food on its journey throughout the supply chain, and one (still in Beta) which is meant to simplify food recalls.
Here’s an example of how the overall platform it might work: Say a shipment of chicken destined for a restaurant is discovered by the supplier to contain traces of salmonella. If the restaurant has connected their supply chain with FoodLogiQ, owners can trace exactly which shipment of chicken was contaminated and act quickly to take it that particular lot—no more, no less—out of their restaurant circulation. With their recent Testo integration, suppliers could also prevent these sort of situations; if the temperature of a shipment of chicken ever goes above the maximum “safe” temperature en route, they can opt not to serve it.
The platform also works from the top-down: If several cafés report poor quality lettuce, or have incidents of a food-borne illness, FoodLogiQ can identify which supplier those restaurants have in common and trace the issue to its source. Thanks to their intensive focus on traceability, FoodLogiQ’s tracking software promises to cut the cost of food recalls in half.
If you’re thinking that those products sounds pretty similar to those offered by other companies, such as Ripe.io and Intelex, you’re right. Ripe.io, a startup which leverages blockchain technology within the food system in an attempt to create “the Blockchain of Food,” is a particularly interesting comparison. Both companies market their platforms to every level of the supply chain, from growers to restaurants.
Where FoodLogiQ differentiates itself, at least according to their Chief Marketing Officer Katy Jones, who spoke with The Spoon a few weeks ago, is with its full suite of offerings. Their startup is unique in its comprehensiveness, covering everything from supplier management to product traceability to recalls. They also have a centralized platform that aggregates all of these services into one module, which, at least in theory, makes tracking food shipments simpler for their customers. As of now, those customers include industry heavyweights Whole Foods Market, Chipotle, and Five Guys.
While FoodLogiQ makes it easier for grocery stores and restaurants to track down the source of any food issues, their software also puts increased pressure on the suppliers to be transparent about their products and thorough in their food safety. This, of course, is not a huge ask—but it made me wonder if farmers, co-packers, and shipping companies benefit as much from FoodLogiq’s platform as those higher up the supply chain.
According to Jones, they do. “Generally speaking, suppliers have a significant amount of required documentation as a result of the Food Safety Modernization Act,” she told The Spoon. “FoodLogiQ helps them get all of their documents onto one platform and increase efficiency.” The transparency also fosters relationships between suppliers and their customers. While this may hold true for larger suppliers who oversee many growers and want to centralize quality, protocol, and documentation, I can’t help but wonder if the farmers appreciate this level of digital accountability.
This last round of funding, as well as FoodLogiQ’s recent growth, could be an indicator of the potential in food safety tech. Consumers are becoming more and more interested in what they’re eating—and that makes things tricky for restaurants and grocery stores. Not only do eaters want to know where their food comes from (you know that the Portlandia sketch), they also want to know, in detail, how it got to their plate. Add that to a recent spate of news stories on recalls of staples like spinach and lettuce due to listeria and E. Coli, and you’ve got an increase in pressure on food industry groups to tighten up security measures against contamination.
Interestingly enough for a company aimed at promoting consumer safety, FoodLogiQ is a platform built to work exclusively within the food industry. Which leads me to believe that while their myriad of data points and ability to chronicle and trace ingredient journeys may help decrease contamination issues, the platform will go a long way in helping restaurants stay on top of food safety regulations—and cut costs associated with recalls in the process.
FoodLogiQ doesn’t currently use blockchain technology to support their platform at the moment, but they’re looking into it. But, as we all know, a chain is only as good as its weakest link—and there are a lot of links between most restaurants, especially nationwide chains, and where their food is grown. “At the end of the day a blockchain is a decentralized database, and we’re database agnostic,” said Jones. “We’re trying to help the food supply chain get all their data standardized and in the same language.”
Blockchain has recently become quite a buzzword in the food tech community, hailed as a panacea for everything from fraud to tracing salmonella outbreaks. Jones is a little bit more skeptical, pointing out that blockchain can fall victim to data integrity issues. She stated that FoodLogiQ is going to work on educating the food tech industry on what blockchain is—and what it isn’t.
The success of FoodLogiQ’s latest round of funding indicates a real need within the industry for support navigating food safety issues. Supermarkets, restaurants and the like have to comply with ever-shifting FSMA and FDA regulations and rising consumer expectations for ingredient transparency, and FoodLogiQ wants to help.
“The restaurant industry is changing—get ahead of it with FoodLogiQ,” proclaims their website. We’ll have to wait and see if FoodLogiQ and its competitors, especially those powered by blockchain, are, indeed, the secret weapon of food safety innovation.