WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.V. — That rapidly advancing household technology may transform how Americans prepare food and eat at home is the premise behind Innit, a California start-up that has elicited considerable investor and food industry interest.
While the company remains in stealth mode, holding back details of its business plan, Innit’s founder and chief executive officer Eugenio Minvielle, and chief operating officer Josh Sigel, were in attendance recently at the G.M.A. Leadership Forum, the annual meeting of the Grocery Manufacturers Association Sept. 8-11 at the Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs. The executives spoke with Milling & Baking News in an interview during the conference.
|Josh Sigel, c.o.o. of Innit|
“There is a lot of interest in the space of connectivity and the internet of things, and we are excited,” Mr. Sigel said. “We believe the kitchen is the next frontier for bringing about a digital or technical solution that puts the consumer first and really solves significant needs and challenges for many people out there.”
Mr. Minvielle established Innit after spending more than 20 years with the largest companies in the food industry, including assignments as the c.e.o. of Nestle in Venezuela, Mexico and France. He also served as president and c.e.o. of North America at Unilever P.L.C.
Over the course of his career, Mr. Minvielle said a seed was planted about the importance of giving consumers access to the information they need to “make better choices to eat better and live better.”
|Eugenio Minvielle, founder and c.e.o. of Innit|
“I always had that in mind and had an opportunity and thought, ‘Let’s do something about it,’” he said. “‘Let’s set up a company that will do it.’”
Blending the food and technology businesses is not easy, at least for existing companies, Mr. Minvielle said.
“The reason is that if you try to develop a food company to have a little bit of technology or a technology company to have a little bit of food, you always will be lopsided,” he said. “I wanted to create a company that fundamentally from its origin would be food tech that would enable the consumer experience. That’s what we’re focused on.
“Innit comes from, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ‘What’s in it for my family?’ ‘What’s in it for my health?’ ‘What’s in it for the planet?’”
Investors believe there is something in it for them. To date, the Redwood City, Calif., company has raised $50 million in funding. Mr. Minvielle said Innit’s investors are “industry knowledgeable partners who understand where the food industry is heading.”
The company has said it is “poised to leverage a wave of technology innovations, including advanced sensors, smart appliances, machine learning and on-demand delivery models that will transform the industry, creating opportunities for both consumers and industry players.”
Innit concerns itself with what Mr. Sigel refers to as the “consumer food ritual.”
“It spans from that moment in time when a mother with children thinks about what she will make for her family tonight or an individual begins thinking about what’s for dinner,” he said. “That’s often where the eating ritual starts. You go from there to shopping for ingredients, or looking for recipes — orchestrating and preparing for a meal and cooking. There’s a lot in between.”
Within this symphony, Innit views itself as an eating technology company connecting the elements that are part of the food ritual, Mr. Sigel said.
A first phase of this platform is ShopWell, launched five years ago and acquired by Innit earlier in 2017. A free internet web site and iPhone/Android app, ShopWell scores foods based on whether they meet a user’s individual needs. The product offers nutrition information and personalized food scores, meant as tools to make shopping for better products easier.
ShopWell has attracted considerable media attention. cNet described the app as like “having a personal dietitian in the palm of your hands.”
“What we’re doing is developing a platform that will support the underlying technology required and the ability to connect from the appliance manufacturing industry, grocery retail industry, food manufacturing industry and health and wellness partners, bringing everyone together to essentially create an ecosystem through a platform that supports that journey,” Mr. Minvielle said. “It’s often referred to as a connected kitchen platform these days, or even an operating system for the kitchen or food.”
Past efforts to enable smart kitchen have failed to integrate “information within food itself,” he said.
Health and wellness will remain central to Innit’s platform, at the supermarket and beyond.
“We see lots of opportunity to work with partners who play in that space to help inform the consumer of the best choices they should make for themselves, not only at grocery and product purchasing, but also translating to the home in terms of what you should be eating, what you should be cooking, how you should be cooking it,” Mr. Sigel said.
While the Innit executives did not share details of what will be launched in the company’s next phase (set to be unveiled late in the year), Mr. Sigel in a discussion during the G.M.A. panel offered a peak into the company’s thinking. He was commenting on an appliance maker that introduced a feature in which consumers could preheat their ovens from their cars while driving home.
“One very large manufacturer got interconnectivity by doing what they thought was innovation,” he said. “We would call that renovation. It’s important not to mix the two things up. This idea of being able to preheat your oven from your car was not exactly helping move the needle in the consumer’s life. We’re all trying to be innovative, and the reality is we aren’t addressing the consumer’s need. We are not focusing on delight. Are you really changing someone’s life by enabling them to remotely start their oven from their car? How do you delight them? Maybe help them cook better.”
While recipes today on the internet have become something of a commodity, Mr. Minvielle sees other ways to add value.
“Recipes are more like paper maps of driving from a few years ago,” he said. “We believe there is a great opportunity to delight consumers with new ways of bringing food to the table and enjoying the process while you do it.”
On the partner side for the company’s platform, Mr. Minvielle said the company has established relationships with makers of appliances, food companies and health and wellness specialists.“We’re proud to be allying ourselves with partners that are keen to enable this platform,” Mr. Minvielle said in the interview. “The exciting part of all this is that we couldn’t be at a better moment in time to be able to do this. Because it is focused on a deep understanding of the consumer, and the consumer’s journey.”