Halifax food safety startup FoodByte has seen its revenue increase by about a third since March, with more growth on the horizon.
The company sells regulatory compliance-tracking software for food producers, who CEO Sean Pindar said in an interview were under pressure from increasingly stringent World Health Organization guidelines even before COVID-19.
The WHO recently shifted its strategy for addressing foodborne illnesses from one of reaction to one of prevention. Member nations, such as Canada, have responded by tightening regulatory restrictions on companies that manufacture food and beverages.
“If you think back to the approach post-9/11 that much of the world took to the aviation industry, that’s the type of magnitude we’re talking about, where there’s this incredible change in a very short period of time,” said CEO Sean Pindar in an interview.
The Canada Food Inspection Agency and similar government bodies require businesses ranging from farms to distilleries to track and report on how they are complying with regulations.
Conventionally, this means filing paper-based logs and reports. For example, if a certain piece of equipment is required to be cleaned at regular intervals, that must be tracked.
FoodByte’s software instead allows employees to track these types of activities via smartphones, tablets and desktop computers. Managers can then view the tracking and generate compliance reports for government agencies.
Some of the company’s clients already have existing food safety plans that they need to digitize. Others need help developing plans, in which case FoodByte will pair clients with outside consultants, where necessary.
Pindar said that for a company to develop a food safety plan in Nova Scotia typically costs between $25,000 and $40,000, and can take eight months or more. FoodByte’s software and services can drive the total cost down by about 75 percent and decrease the average timeline to about three months.
To allow for the protection of intellectual property, such as recipes, information within the software can be siloed, so that only key decision-makers have access to all of the data.
And unlike paper-based tracking systems, FoodByte allows managers to set mandatory timelines for when tasks must be logged. The feature aims to prevent employees from cheating and back-filling records.
“With paper, managers have to believe and trust that everything is being done and filled in at the times (workers) say its being done,” said Pindar. “The reality is, that’s not being done. Folks come in to complete their jobs, they’re tired, they’re stressed, they fill out the form super quick and they just go about the day. There’s a huge risk to that. There’s an enormous liability.”
With increased concerns about food safety during COVID-19 adding to existing regulatory pressures, Pindar said that customer demand continues to rise.
In addition to a 30 percent spike in revenue since the start of the pandemic, FoodByte has also seen 60 percent growth since November.
Pindar and his team also recently completed a new hire and are in the process of another, which will bring the total employee count to seven. Depending on market conditions and other factors, he sees the company growing to ten or more people by 2021.
FoodByte was recently selected to receive $50,000 of investment from Innovacorp and the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, as part of the funding bodies' agreement with Propel. The company is about halfway through a round of pre-seed funding, and Pindar expects a seed round to follow in 14 to 18 months.
On the marketing front, meanwhile, he is aiming for organic growth, with word of mouth spurred by detailed, online commentary about the food safety landscape. His team recently signed deals with four food-safety experts who will write articles for the company.
“This is going to create an inbound lead generation system that is based around quality, is referral based,” he said. “People want to do business with us because we care about the (food) ecosystem and we care about giving back.”