A highly technical and innovative tool, nutrition data company Edamam is set for serious growth in the next couple of years. We chatted with founder and CEO Victor Penev to find out more about the service and what his plans are for the future.
Edamam is essentially a data company focused on food and nutrition. Our mission is to give the right information every time people make a decision about food, and to do that we organize and structure food and nutrition data.
We sell this data to businesses in the food, health, and wellness industries. The primary use cases we support are food logging, finding nutritional information about particular meals and foods, or creating personalized recommendations.
As a company, we have a B2B SaaS (business-to-business, software as a service) model, and our clients include companies like Nestlé, Food Network, Amazon, The New York Times, McCormick, Tyson, and other big-brand companies. We’ve established ourselves as leaders in the food and nutrition data space, and over 70,000 developers have signed up for our APIs and are developing apps on top of the data we have.
We see the future as very bright: we believe that food and nutrition are very important to support healthy living. We have a vision of helping people to live up to 120 years without ever getting a chronic or mental illness. We know food is a part of the solution. We believe that food is the ultimate medicine.
Like most ideas, it came out of my passions and interests. I was looking to do something new and started with the fact that I love food. I’ve cooked for all my life every day, so I started investigating the cross-section of food and technology.
I came across the realization that many people don’t have the right information on how to choose what they eat: they follow diets and fads, constantly chasing after an illusory solution. People try all kinds of diets – gluten-free, keto, low-fat, low-carb… There’s no quality information on what would work best for them individually.
I realized that the primary problem is that information is disorganized, unavailable, incomplete, contradictory, and not structured in a way that can be used consistently across different channels. This is exactly the type of problem technology can solve.
We started as a B2C (business-to-consumer) company, reaching out to end consumers and offering a way to find high-quality recipes to fit individual lifestyles and needs. But we discovered this is a tough business model. People expect food data and recipes to be free.
Around five years ago, we found that businesses are quite interested in our data. One of the big things we did was switching from a B2C to a B2B company and essentially repurposing our technology to build B2B products. It was a challenge but necessary.
Figuring out a business model was our biggest challenge because food data is seen as something good to have but most companies expect it to be available for free. Organizing it in a way that is easy to sell and making the case of why it should be paid for was something we needed to figure out. We saw two waves of competitors come and go because they couldn’t figure out the model.
I believe we were also helped by the circumstances, since food has moved front and center in people’s minds as something important to support health and wellness.
The nutrition analysis tool is one interface we’ve built on top of our APIs for small businesses. Think of small restaurants or individual dietitians: they don’t have engineers to integrate the API and build proper applications – but they want to analyze their recipes!
We’ve discovered that, to them, the biggest barriers to entry are time and money. Even though our Nutrition Wizard was cheap ($10 to $20 a month), we wanted to remove that barrier. We’re not making that much money from these customers, but the data they analyze is useful to us. We can use their data to enhance our database and machine learning algorithms, which is the reason why we made it free.
Ultimately, our goal is to have the information for every meal on the planet. Many of the meals out there about which people don’t know anything are restaurant meals. If we can make it easy for restaurants to analyze their meals, we get their data and then can make it available to other people.
First of all, our business has shifted more towards health and wellness. “Food as medicine” is becoming much more prevalent as opposed to simple food data, which educates the decisions we are making.
We’re looking at genome-matching of food, to start providing food genotyping and powering genome-driven personalized food recommendations. We’re working with universities on the microbiome to understand how it interacts with food to impact health and eventually provide microbiome-driven recommendations as well.
We’re also looking at flavor profiling of recipes, so we can help people find out what they like serendipitously and suggest things to them based on their preferences. We’re working with another university on carbon footprint, because it has become much more important in today’s day and age to have sustainability data. We’re starting with carbon but we will also look at land use, water use, and other metrics.
The common denominator of all these initiatives is the expansion of the depth of our data and to enhance the data for every meal, in addition to the currently supported macronutrients, micronutrients, allergens, lifestyle diets, and chronic conditions.
The next thing we are looking at is expanding data horizontally, aiming at new languages. We have a project in India now, we are looking in Germany, France, and raising money to open an Asian office, probably in Hong Kong or Singapore.