'Google for food’: Spoon Guru’s founder discusses the personalisation of product searches and better labelling

Following successful integration into Tesco’s search function, the tech start-up has just announced a series of new partnerships with international retailers.

21 June 2019

Whether it’s avoiding allergens or cutting calories, Brits have never been more concerned with what they put in their bodies. Catering for new generations of consumers with dietary requirements has become a key battleground in the food industry, as menu and product developers attempt to respond to a desire for everything from gluten-free foods to paleo-friendly fare.

With so many options out there – both in terms of diets and products – it’s become increasingly complex to figure out what items fit with an individual’s health goals.

Spoon Guru was founded to help navigate these murky waters. The company specialises in using artificial intelligence, combined with nutritional expertise and data science, to help people find the foods that are right for them.

At the end of 2017, it scored a coup for its tech by partnering with Tesco to improve the retailer’s online search function. Using this opportunity to prove its mettle, the company is now taking its AI-led approach global.

Yesterday, Spoon Guru announced it would be collaborating with Woolworths in Australia and New Zealand, Jet in the US and Albert Heijn in the Netherlands to personalise search results and help consumers find products that fit their dietary needs.

“The technology provides an innovative solution to a world-wide pain-point; 64% of the world’s population is on some form of exclusion diet and whether this is due to allergy, intolerance or health and lifestyle choices, the demand for a more personalised approach to food shopping is clear,” according to Spoon Guru’s co-founder and co-CEO Markus Stripf.

Top of the tags

Spoon Guru was initially promoted specifically for people with allergies and intolerances, but the company has since expanded its scope to go as broad as possible.

“If you can get it right for someone with an allergy, you can easily extend that capability to cover somebody on a vegan or a low-sugar diet or a religious diet like kosher of halal,” Stripf tells Food Spark, adding that the popular interest in modish diets “doesn’t seem to be a fad either, it seems to be a trend that’s here to stay in the Western world – and beyond.”

Gluten-free and vegan are among the most popular filters in Spoon Guru’s arsenal, but the company is continually adding to the database of its proprietary Tags technology. Recently, low calorie, heart healthy and one of your five a day have all been added to the range of options; low fat has become one of the top filters overall.

“What we’re seeing now is that on top of the fact that people are on exclusion diets, they now have very specific health objectives as well,” says Stripf. “The vast majority simply want to make healthier choices, better choices, and in order to do that you need to know what’s in your food.”

Spoon Guru can tailor its tech to allow retailers to select which filters they want to provide shoppers, as well as tweaking diet definitions so they are in line with a brand’s specific requirements or guidelines – after all, the term ‘low fat’ can have variable meaning, particularly across different continents.

The ability to personalise search results has been linked to increased basket conversion rates – for some tags, the increase is as much as 500%, according to Spoon Guru stats.

“If you provide a personalised shopping experience it’s much more rewarding [for the consumer], and in return a rewarding shopping experience converts much better than one where you have to sift through pages and pages of products before you find what you want,” explains Stripf.

Future of the label

One way of looking at Spoon Guru is as a label and recipe reader, distilling the information that’s important for each consumer from what’s on the packaging – and what’s not on the packaging.

“People are still demanding more transparency [from labels]. They want to know what they are putting into their bodies. They want to go beyond the label – and they want to go beyond label reading,” says Stripf. “The fact that they still have to be able to read a label to know what they’re putting into your body could be simplified and improved.”

He believes digital enablers are the best way forward, allowing for not just more personalised information but also education for those who find the information confusing. While the traffic light system has to some extent helped clarify what levels of salt and sugar actually mean for the body, there are still those who are confused by the mixed messages about what’s healthy or unhealthy.

“I think there’s only so much we can do with physical labels on the packet,” remarks Skipf. “We provide hundreds and hundreds of dietary attributes for each individual product. There’s no way you can put that on a physical label or on a shelf on a store. There’s simply not enough space. But as we move to electronic shelf edge technology or QR code lookups, you could easily give the consumer the option to have complete transparency.”

Going forward, Spoon Guru hopes to exploit opportunities in foodservice and even tourism, but for now grocers remain the main target.

“Our current, immediate focus is on retail because it’s such a huge need and such a huge opportunity on a global basis,” concludes Stripf, adding that he wants Spoon Guru to become “Google for food.”

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