How this Chicago startup is fighting for transparency in the food industry

Sam Dewey

In today’s hyper-connected world, consumers are smart. Or — at least — they want to be.

With one hand on their shopping carts and the other glued to their smartphones triple-checking the nutritional value of a box of mac and cheese, consumers are hungry for as much information about their food as possible. They want to know where that food is shipped from, and when, and what chemicals, additives, potential allergens, and nutrients come packaged within.

Is your food organic? Gluten-free? Low-carb? No trans fat? Sodium free? Whole grain or whole wheat or multigrain?

According to one Chicago tech company, those questions are easier said than answered.

“When it comes to product data transparency, there’s a big challenge in the [food] industry in addressing this issue and producing the information that consumers want,” said Anton Xavier (pictured far-left).

Xavier is the co-founder and CEO of Label InsightLabel InsightVisit their siteView company profile+ Create Job Alert, a company working to imbue the food industry with the transparency needed for consumers, retailers, and consumer packaged-goods (CPG) manufacturers to make more data-driven decisions.

The desire to meet the growing demands of consumers is there, Xavier said, with everyone from the FDA and consumer advocacy groups to individual retailers and brands wanting and willing to empower consumers on their collective quest for transparency.

So, what’s the problem?

As it stands, Xavier said retailers have taken the lead on actually delivering the most accurate consumer-facing information about a product to its buyers — which is a great thing, but that also means individual retailers typically set their own definitions and demands for specific product information. Three different retailers might have three different definitions for what qualifies a product as, say, gluten-free. In turn, suppliers must work to meet the unique label and marketing requirements of a bevy of retailers, muddying the process and leaving just about everyone confused — consumer, retailer, CPG brand, and regulator alike.

“It can be a really hard time producing and maintaining product information to meet all of those different needs,” he said. “That’s essentially where we come in.”

Label Insight’s tech platform aims to cut through that cacophony by working with CPG brands to convey information more effectively. Their technology scans product images and data, surveying nutritional labels, ingredient lists, and marketing claims for over 300 basic data points. The company then transforms that information into about 15,000 “smart attributes” that can be used to customize data to fit retailers’ disparate needs. In consequence, retailers have the info they need to communicate to shoppers in a concise, consistent, and accurate manner.

In their mission for more transparency, the company has marshaled partners on all fronts. Over the last three years, more than 275,000 products have been submitted to their cloud-based platform, with 25,000 more added or updated monthly, according to their website. Cumulatively, those products represent about 17,000 different brands.

In addition to CPG brands, Xavier also said they’ve worked for years with the FDA, an organization he called one of their “core, marquee customers.”

All that traction hasn’t gone unnoticed by investors. Last week, Label Insight announced the close of a $10 million Series B round of funding, led by KPMG Capital, whose investment resulted in an equity stake in the company.

“The most exciting part about the round from our perspective is the partnership from KPMG Capital and what that promises for our future growth,” Xavier said. “They have access to a global partner network, and most of the larger CPG retailers are a part of that network. They’re really excited about taking our solution to market to help their clients address transparency. For us, it’s a really natural fit and one we’re really excited about going forward.”

Label Insight was officially incorporated in 2008. Xavier said the company has offices in both Chicago and St. Louis, with over 20 employees in each location. In Chicago, the company’s employees (mostly front end developers and a marketing/sales team) work out of the West Loop.

Xavier said the funding will be used to create new products and build out their data science capabilities.

“We’ve done very well with developing our core technology to this stage,” he said, “but we want to further optimize our portfolio of proprietary technology by leveraging data scientists to really help us advance where the cutting edge is.”

Photos via Label Insight.

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