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03/13/2015

New app locates local food

“Google of local food” app will provide single source to find local products

Marcia Woods grew up in a family that owned a farm and preserved food. Her father ran a grocery store in a small village in southwestern Ontario. Woods has studied horticulture and is a seasoned farmers’ market shopper. All this to say, local food is in her DNA.

She recently channeled her passion for local food and the way it can foster a strong sense of community into a tech startup called ei•ei•eat. Based in Barrie, Woods summarizes ei•ei•eat as “your Google of local food.” Slated to launch in May, the web app will be a source to find and verify local food, connecting consumers and wholesale purchasers with farmers and producers. It will allow buyers to quickly find local food and sellers to market their products.

Co-founder Woods shared with Canadian Grocer how the app benefits consumers and buyers, the previous roadblocks to supporting local farmers and how the startup plans to make money from its free app.

What is ei•ei•eat?

It is a social-mobile platform that connects the people and places in the local food ecosystem from coast to coast. easy to find and verify local food wherever you go.

Your startup is based in Barrie. Which geographic areas will ei•ei•eat cover when you launch?

Think of us as your Google of local food. We are centralizing, organizing and coding local food across Canada and the U.S. We then make that information available through web and mobile apps, as well as widgets and APIs . That gives local food businesses a broad and targeted audience that's motivated to buy local food.

Additionally, we are a highly mobile society and that makes local food a moving target. So we give consumers and wholesale buyers one source—no more jumping from app to app—so you can always find local food.

Transparency and learning more about where food is grown is a hot topic right now. How does your app help consumers, buyers and producers on that front?

This issue of transparency is one that ei•ei•eat is tackling head on. It starts with our food coding system. The code carries rich “product vitals,” including information about the producer and the product. This includes characteristics the buyer wants to verify, such as Non-GMO, Certified Organic, Certified Humane Slaughter and Pesticide Free. That way, consumers and wholesale buyers who are searching for products with a specific set of characteristics can filter their results. We feel it is imperative to support existing verification and certification programs so only producers that have taken the steps to meet certain standards and practices can make claims, and we have a cross-verification process in place that handles this.

But we don't stop there. The application provides food producers with an easy way to imbed product codes on their labels so buyers can verify a product’s origin by scanning it with their smartphone at the point of purchase. We also feel it is imperative to support existing verification and certification programs so the growers and restaurants that have taken the steps to meet certain standards and practices may promote this within their ei•ei•eat profile.

Why is connecting people with the producers that grow their food an especially important concept today?

Local food is a growing trend, but knowing what’s available, where to find it and what to do with it once it's in our fridge challenges our ability to eat local. The vast majority of us want a diet rich in fresh, local foods while supporting local farmers and environmental sustainability. However, available information and distribution systems don't make it easy and that has put up some barriers. We are removing those barriers by focusing on scale rather than one specific region. That way, we can shorten the search and get right to the find.

Smaller food producers often don’t have huge marketing budgets. How does your app help them reach consumers?

Local food businesses such as farmers, micro-producers, restaurants and retailers can register and use ei•ei•eat to promote for free. The platform includes a web and mobile app along with local food search widgets that third-party sites can use as well as our API means that food businesses have multiple ways to be found using ei•ei•eat. We also offer local food businesses’ "Fresh Report" where in 30 seconds they can let their followers know what's fresh and available everyday and where they can get it.

As you grow, how far do you plan to expand the area you cover?

Our platform is fully scalable and our intent is to grow quickly with a primary focus on the Canadian and U.S. market for 2015/2016. Then, we will expand into other English-speaking countries in 2017. Our platform will be available for licensing in other regions of the world in 2017 as well.

You come from a marketing and tech background. Your family also owned a farm and a grocery store when you were young. How did your background give you an edge with creating this local food-finding app?

I was a typical rural kid in the ’70s. Not much came from a box. I took 4-H, Home Ec. and had parents and grandparents that gardened, preserved and shared food with others. My dad ran Woods Superior Store in Kintore, Ontario where everyone came for their weekly groceries. I get so much enjoyment from doing the same—even now. I experienced firsthand the power of food in creating a strong sense of self-sufficiency, but culture and community too. As communities, we lost that connection to food for a while, but I am optimistic we can get it back and I think our application is one way I can use my talents as a marketer and tech entrepreneur to improve access to local food.

Since the app will be free, where will your profit come from?

The app is free for consumers and food businesses to use. We will introduce a premium version of our application in 2016, but the biggest source of revenue for us is API and data licensing to enterprise food businesses who want a food GIS to source local food on a multinational level. It will also come from annual report subscriptions from individuals and companies who want to leverage our data to better understand aspects of our food system.

You currently have a Kickstarter campaign running. Why did you decide to raise money through crowdfunding?

To date, we have bootstrapped our development and marketing costs. We are crowdfunding to raise funds to accelerate our mobile development so we can scale our application faster. We are also using it to raise market awareness and provoke a conversation about local food.

We are using events like "Spend10" on March 27 to engage people and build awareness around local food and ei•ei•eat. This is a day of action for local food where we are encourage everyone across Canada to take the pledge and spend $10 on local food that day and share it on social media.

When will the web app launch?

We are already registering food businesses on our web app at eieieat.com. The first version of our web app will be released in May. The funds we hope to raise on Kickstarter were earmarked for our mobile app development. If successful, we will begin development immediately and have it in the market this season. If for some reason we don't reach our goal, there is always a plan B! We are entrepreneurs, after all—we always find a way.