Foodsteps, a London-based foodtech platform that allows companies to calculate, label, and reduce their environmental footprint, announced that it has secured $4.1M in a seed funding round. The funding round was led by Octopus Ventures, with participation from Metaplanet, Ascension, and the Conduit EIS Impact Fund.
The funds will enable the company to hire data and software engineers to grow and develop the platform. Currently, the company employs around 15 people with specialists in food life-cycle assessments, data, and software.
The UK company recently hired Andrew Stephen, former CEO of the Sustainable Restaurant Association and Board member of The Zero Carbon Forum, and Liz Macfie from Century Tech as Head of Data.
How did it start?
Anya Doherty founded Foodsteps while researching sustainable food systems at the University of Cambridge.
Sharing her journey, Doherty says, “When I first came across the scale of the environmental impacts of the food system, I was astounded. 25-30% of greenhouse gas emissions, the leading driver of deforestation, the largest user and polluter of freshwater, and one of the major drivers of biodiversity loss – facts like these made me realise I needed to spend my time working on solutions.”
She adds, “I studied environmental sciences at university and spent time as a researcher in food system sustainability at the University of Cambridge. I then realised there was no scalable way for food companies to measure and reduce their environmental impacts, and time was running out to make very significant changes.”
Challenging trial period
Realising the opportunity, Doherty brought together a team of sustainability scientists and software engineers under Foodsteps in early 2019. After completing trials with commercial food brands, Foodsteps has launched its platform for the wider industry in 2021.
Talking about the challenges, Doherty shares, “At first, convincing food companies that this was something they needed to do and take seriously was a challenge, but things have changed a lot in the last few years – now we have companies coming to us.”
“Additionally, the food system is very complex so it has been a challenge to build up sufficient coverage and specificity in our database, but we’re pleased with the progress we’ve made,” she adds.
Tech behind Foodsteps
Based out of London, Foodsteps was established to make it easy and accessible for any food business to measure, reduce and communicate their environmental impact.
Shedding light on its technology, Doherty mentions, “The tech behind Foodsteps is our B2B software platform that is used by sustainability officers, R&D and C-suite across ambitious food companies to drive sustainable change. Our platform uses APIs to plug into food supply chains to collect and harmonise environmental data from farm to fork.”
Currently, the platform holds a database of over 3,000 ingredients, containing impact information on an ingredient’s carbon footprint, as well as pollution, water use, and land use impacts.
“We have collected and harmonised data from thousands of peer-reviewed scientific studies alongside government and industry data. We segregate the data based on several factors like geography, production method, life-cycle stage, and time,” she says.
Traffic light labels
Foodsteps introduced a factor called ‘Traffic light’ labels, enabling consumers to transparently see climate-related information about the product including carbon and environmental impacts, such as pollution and land use.
Explaining the concept, Doherty shares, “In 2019, I co-led the largest experimental trial into carbon labelling of food that has been done to date, with researchers at the University of Cambridge. We looked across the scientific literature for effective labels and tested several designs on consumers, finding that having a traffic light label is a very effective way for people to quickly understand if an impact score is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. If you just give a number, like 0.5 kg CO2e, few people understand what this means.”
The platform uses a traffic light rating from A-E (A denotes low environmental impact, while E denotes high environmental impact). Consumers can scan the QR code to learn about a product’s sustainability.
Over the next year, the UK company is planning to focus on improving its database, including integrating more environmental impacts such as farm-level biodiversity and water use.
Foodsteps also hopes to target the largest food businesses, increase its list of high street names, and grow existing partnerships with WWF and WRAP as well.
When asked about what makes Foodsteps unique, Doherty says, “Our commitment to integrity in sustainability, and our relentless pursuit for scale. We don’t cut corners and we believe our solution provides the best-in-class impact assessments for food. We also know how big the problem is we want to solve, so scale is our favourite word.”
Based out of London and New York, Octopus Ventures is a multi-stage venture capital investor specialising in B2B software, health, money, deep tech, and consumer.
With £1.3B under management and investing over £200M a year, Octopus Ventures is one of the largest and most active venture investors in Europe.
Lucy Clarke, Investor at Octopus Ventures comments, “It is an immensely difficult challenge for businesses to understand in detail the impact of their food supply chains from farm to fork, but Foodsteps can make this possible in days and they’ve not only made the process possible, but they’ve also made it scalable, meaning businesses can take data-driven steps towards reducing emissions and meeting net-zero goals before it’s too late. Anya is exactly the type of entrepreneur Octopus wants to back. With her team, she’s building a new category with an idea that can change the world for the better.”