Instead, a product’s rating is featured in the grocery store—the most standard form is a seal on the product’s price tag, but it can be as elaborate as displays or more.
“It essentially allows grocers to highlight the great products that they are carrying, and consumers to identify those products, so it’s a nice win-win,” Alexander Gillet, CEO and co-founder of HowGood, told FoodNavigator-USA.
The rating company’s database now has over 137,000 products from condiments, to meat and seafood, to snacks, and to produce. The rating comes from data aggregated from over 350 sources and certifications, such as USDA Organic, Rainforest Alliance, Bird Friendly, Certified Fair labor Practices, National Fisheries Institute, and Non-GMO Project Verified.
Each of these products have been analyzed for 70 different indicators grouped in three main categories: Sourcing (like its supply chain and distribution), Production (processes and workforce conditions), and Organization (the manufacturer’s employees and environmental commitment). Depending on how the product fares in each indicator, it can win either a ‘Good,’ ‘Great,’ or ‘Best’ seal, which will be featured on a tag next to or on the on-shelf price tag.
What's different about the HowGood rating compared to other seals is that it revolves around the retailer.
Geographic location can affect a product's ranking, as carbon footprints change depending on how far a product was transported.
"There's no one question that can answer everything," Gillet said. "The food system is incredibly complex so we wan to accurately display [a product's impact] — Like, should you buy local? It depends, if you buy a locally avocado in upstate New York, the impact would be horrendous because you have to keep it warm year-long."
Partnership with Ahold-Delhaize Company’s Giant Food of Landover
Considering the retailer-centric model of HowGood, grocery partnerships are a key component to the company’s success. “We’re in 26 different states, in everything from health and natural stores to purely conventional stores, and we’ve impacted a huge number of products and what people are buying,” Gillet said.
Gillet started the company with his brother Arthur back in 2007, sparked by the desire to map out the impact our food system has on humans and the environment.
Five years was spent researching and developing rating rubrics and partnering with food industry experts, and it started out as an online platform and database for consumers to use. The company tested out its retailer seal program in 2011, and it proved to be a success. Its first retailer partnerships were “mostly in the 25-store group,” Gillet said.
But this year, the company is ramping up partnerships with larger retailers, such as Giant Food, which was recently announced as a new retail partner, paving the way for HowGood to team up with major players in the industry, Gillet said.
From stimulus grant to VCs (thanks to consumer demand for transparency)
When HowGood was still a start-up, funding came from a stimulus grant for green businesses provided by the state of New York, part of the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 set up by Congress during the recession.
But as demand for transparency from consumers increased, so has the interest of investors on HowGood’s mission. In 2014 it raised $2m, and then some tiny amounts in between that. Last week, the company announced that it has raised $4.2m from investors including FirstMark Capital, Contour Venture, Serious Change LP, as well as from individual investors.
“There is a fundamental trend towards sustainable consumer products,” said Rick Heitzmann, Founder and Managing Director of FirstMark Capital.
“The food and beverage industry is a $600 billion-dollar industry; 83% of Americans consider sustainability when buying food and twenty-first century customers are extremely focused on not only quality but also how their food and consumer goods are produced. We continue to be impressed by HowGood both for their proprietary data, technology and commitment to building a sustainable food system,” he added.
“We believe they are uniquely positioned to capture this market with a simple system that consumers cannot find elsewhere.”