Sunday, November 10, 2013

When, Why and How to Get a Nutrition Fact Label

Interview with Lev Berlin
Creator of ReciPal

Kathryn: Hi Lev! Like a lot of the folks we talk to, you have an interesting background with some twists and turns. How did you end up coming up with ReciPal?

Lev: For quite a while I was working as a management consultant here in New York, flying around helping banks solve problems and building fun analytics tools for them. I always had a bit of an entrepreneurial bent, so while consulting I got involved with my friends at SlantShack Jerky making beef jerky for fun. It kept growing and eventually we realized we needed to put nutrition facts on our labels. I ended up researching the process but couldn’t find any good solutions out there – we had 60 combinations of flavors, so pretty much everything was way too expensive. Being a nerd, I ended up finding the USDA ingredient database, building a fancy spreadsheet, and doing the nutrition analysis myself. Around the same time I was getting into programming websites. The light bulb went off in my head one night and I got to work building ReciPal to help food startups create nutrition labels.

Kathryn: So I imagine it’s come quite a way since the early days?

Lev: Ummm…yes. It was really basic initially. You couldn’t sign in and you couldn’t save a recipe. It was hardly even practical for my own purposes, but I was learning and having fun. Over time we added features, made it easier to use and eventually got it to the point where customers were willing to pay for it (and we felt comfortable charging).

Kathryn: What was missing from the other options available?

Lev: Well, the first thing most people think of when they need nutrition analysis is sending their product to a lab. Unfortunately, that is fairly expensive ($300-500) and also takes some time to send your product, perform the tests, and get everything back. We use a database analysis and even the database analysis websites I found were $150+ per label. There are some free options, but they are unfortunately what you’d expect from something free. I wanted to take the simplicity of database analysis and make it easy to use, reasonably priced, and highly customizable.
Kathryn: So who is the prototypical customer at ReciPal?

Lev: I wanted there to be a great resource for food startups to get nutrition labeling done because I spent far too much time on the process myself. So I definitely focused on early stage food startups and bakers. At this point we have all kinds of customers, from nutritionists, to co-packers, to food business consultants, to food startups themselves. We also offer a few complimentary labels to each user so that startups with just a few products don’t have to pay much, if anything at all. I’m cheap, so I would have loved that.

Kathryn: Is it just nutrition labeling, or are there other reasons food startups could use ReciPal?

Lev: By default, it ends up being a nice cloud-based recipe and ingredient manager. So, you can’t ever lose your recipes or forget the ratios. We’ve built in lots of quick tools like scaling a recipe to any size and turning a recipe into an ingredient so it can be used as a sub recipe. There’s also a simple but effective recipe costing feature that some of our users can’t live without – it really helps early entrepreneurs figure out how to price their products, which is easier said than done. We also handle ingredient lists. And there’s always more in the works!

Kathryn: Anything food startups should know about labeling that they may not already know?

Lev: Once you have a product you should really get nutrition facts on your packaging, even if you’re not so big that it’s required. It helps build a rapport with customers, will accelerate your entry into retail, and just feels honest. The other thing is that even though ReciPal was created to avoid expensive lab analysis, really big food companies usually use database analysis. It’s much faster, often more accurate, and it allows them to quickly iterate the recipe process with an eye for the nutritional aspect of the product, which is important for so many food companies that are focused on organic, healthy products.

Kathryn: Any tips for food startups from your days at SlantShack?

Lev: We got our start doing farm markets in New York City, so I highly recommend signing up for one in your area. They can generate a lot of buzz, they’re fun, and you can really engage with your customers while selling your product. We learned a ton just by talking to customers at markets. We got to see what flavors they liked and didn’t like, received immediate feedback on packaging, and learned their shopping behaviors (where, when, why they shop). All that helps you iterate on your product and marketing faster than you otherwise could selling online or in stores. Think of markets as a really cheap focus group where you can test something new every week.

Our other biggest not-so-secret sauce is having fun, so don’t forget that!