A mission to improve the supply chain while making packaged food more nutritious

The platform’s algorithms and machine learning optimize product development along the packaged food supply chain.

The global pandemic has brought to light the fragility of many supply chains. Product shortages in grocery stores, food processing slowdowns, and e-commerce businesses scrambling to meet surging demand all illustrate supply chain choke points. This week, I’m highlighting Midwest tech businesses that are helping to solve these problems. 

The innovation: Journey Foods, based in Chicago, is an integrative software platform that uses data and technology to get better packaged food products to market. The technology uses algorithms and machine learning to improve product development for consumer packaged goods companies, ingredient suppliers, and manufacturers.

The problem: $3 trillion in packaged foods is produced globally each year, but the foods largely are not nutritious, sustainable, or cost effective enough to be widely accessible, especially in food deserts and rural areas. Plus, inefficiencies in the packaged food supply chain are time consuming and costly.

The impact: “My goal was to find ways to use data to better assess the inefficiencies of supply chains and manufacturing so that we could accelerate better nutrition,” said Founder and CEO Riana Lynn. The platform saves companies time and money by reducing long research and development processes and optimizing manufacturing with data-driven tools. “Essentially we use data to lower the amount of risk around anything from final nutrition goals to a regulatory hurdle or cost. Those are things that are limiting because of the complexity of creating and manufacturing retail-ready food,” she said. The platform also gives customers insights into how some ingredients affect greenhouse gas emissions and water waste.

The backstory: Lynn comes from a family of food entrepreneurs, farmers, and educators. She has a biological and social sciences background, with a lens on how nutrition and environment affect epigenetics and chronic disease, and spent time as a Google entrepreneur-in-residence. After launching and trying to scale her own food traceability business in college, she encountered many supply chain and transparency problems. That prompted her to research and build tools with engineer friends to solve these problems.

What’s next: Journey Foods launched its first prototype product, Journey Bites, last year. It currently works with a few dozen companies and intends to expand to a few hundred this year. The pandemic has not slowed progress; in fact, the opposite might be true. “Everyone is still eating three times a day and grocery store sales are up 300%. Eating is somewhat pandemic proof,” Lynn said. She envisions that over the next decade the industry’s investment strategies and startup trends will focus more on solving for big social issues. “The supply chain is very ripe for more disruption, especially when it comes to automation and collaborations,” she said.

Do you know other Midwest tech businesses transforming supply chains? Let me know so I can highlight them in a future newsletter. Email katie@centered.tech or connect on Twitter @centereddottech to share ideas.

Today’s headlines:

🔬 RESEARCH FUNDING: The U.S. Department of Energy announced up to $30 million in funding for research and innovation on “critical materials” such as rare-earth elements used for manufacturing magnets used in electric vehicles and offshore wind turbine generators. The technology can focus on field validation and demonstration, extraction, separation, and/or processing. (U.S. Department of Energy)

⛏ MINING: A new World Bank report says clean energy technology is mineral intensive and the increasing demand could cause the production of minerals such as graphite, cobalt, and lithium to jump nearly 500% by 2050. It recommends a shift to climate-smart mining principles to prevent negative environmental impacts on the way to a low-carbon future. (World Bank)

🖥 SMART GRID: The Illinois Commerce Commission is close to finalizing new rules that would let utilities earn returns on investments in cloud-based computing solutions and software subscription fees. Utilities say this would allow them to focus more on creating smarter grids by outsourcing computing rather than doing it in-house. Current rules disincentivize some investments and do not keep up with technological changes. (Utility Dive)

🚜 AG-TECH: St. Louis-based agtech accelerator The Yield Lab Institute and Chesterfield, Missouri-based United Soybean Board recently launched the Soy Innovation Challenge to identify disruptive technologies and innovations to increase the sustainability, transparency, and profitability of the soybean value chain. Entrepreneurs can apply for the accelerator through June 1. (news release)

⛓ BLOCKCHAIN: A pilot project at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is examining the use of blockchain technology for transactive energy. The distributed grid operation concept could alter how electric systems work. (NREL)

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