Martie launches with $3M to divert shelf-stable food items from landfills
Nov 2, 2021
Original article found on TechCrunch.
By Christine Hall
Companies are attacking food waste in different ways, from developing a better food supply chain to “skins” for produce to food sharing.
And today, Martie officially enters the market with its approach to stop from going into landfills food that is thrown away due to package changes, being a seasonal product or nearing their best buy date.
Louise Fritjofsson and Kari Morris started the company in January to “rescue” pantry staples and offer them, initially in California, for between 40% and 70% off retail prices. The pair met two years ago. Both previous entrepreneurs, Fritjofsson from the tech side and Morris on the food side, they bonded over wanting to make better-for-you food more accessible and affordable.
Fritjofsson says there are 13 million Americans who are food insecure and have to make the decision everyday on what to eat, and are often swayed by food that is not as healthy because it is cheaper.
They tested a few different things, including launching five food brands, but kept having a surplus of items they didn’t know what to do with.
“If you don’t have a sustainable approach you shouldn’t do it,” Fritjofsson told TechCrunch. “We thought we were doing the right things, but we still had a surplus. We started talking to food brands about their surplus, and they usually sell it for pennies on the dollar.”
Ironically, they learned that donating surplus food to places like food banks was difficult, cumbersome and the tax credit only went so far. Though brands are usually careful with positioning their inventory in normal retail channels, some 40% of shelf-stable food — around 146 tons — goes to the landfill each year, she added.
Taking a nod from brands that paved the way by providing imperfect or “ugly” fruits and vegetables, Fritjofsson and Morris decided to do the same, but with pantry staples like cookies, coffee, baking ingredients and snacks. Products come in 10 categories, like breakfast, bakeshop, condiments and pastas.
Since the global pandemic started over 18 months ago, consumer behavior toward purchasing groceries online became more regular and is expected to grow to $190 billion by 2024. Not only that, but with food prices increasing since September, experts say this year’s Thanksgiving dinner could be the most expensive meal in the holiday’s history.
Martie comes online with over 400 SKUs and $3 million in funding from Upfront Ventures. The new funding enables the company to make new hires to build efficiencies on the website, form additional buyer relationships and develop marketing.
There is no subscription or membership for Martie. Consumers can go to the website, pick the items they want and check out.
“Our goal is to keep barriers low, so there are no constraints,” Fritjofsson said. “We even have a call-in number in Spanish and English for people who are not comfortable placing an online order.”
Kobie Fuller, partner at Upfront Ventures, says his firm has a history of investing in retail and consumer, with a big emphasis on startups that have an impact on the planet, including Apeel Sciences, which recently brought in $250 million in new funding to continue developing its plant-based layer for the surface of fruits and vegetables that is tasteless and odorless and that keeps moisture in while letting oxygen out.
Fuller heard about what Fritjofsson and Morris were doing and their sustainability approach checked off a lot of boxes for him. The future of food waste will require “a village of companies” and the new wave of investments into this space are necessary to elevate those successes into household names that will be the model for sustainability, he added.
Fuller knew Fritjofsson from a previous company and while he didn’t invest in that one at the time, he thought the concept of Martie was a hit.
“Here is a budding product that rescues foods while offering discounts and does it in a way that the brand is elevated,” he said. “For me, this is brilliant. I am super impressed with Louise and her team and think this is going to be gigantic.”
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