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Matt Schwartz of Afresh on Building an Operating System for Perishables

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While in graduate school, Matt Schwartz had an epiphany.

At the time, he was studying food systems as part of the Earth Program at Stanford University, as well as participating in an internship with food tech investor Dave Friedberg. Helped him see the future.

“That’s when I started to believe things were going in a fresh direction,” Schwartz told me in a Zoom interview this week. “To feed the world sustainably, we need to move to a more nutrient-dense diet, a less calorie-dense diet. And these two things converge to accelerate this new technology,” he said. I wanted to let you.”

The focus on fresh produce soon led Schwartz and his eventual Afresh co-founder, Nathan Fenner, to conduct graduate studies talking to nearly 100 people involved in the food supply chain. I was. Despite the growing importance of fresh produce to food retailers, it didn’t take long for them to realize that there was no optimized technology to manage it.

Matt Schwartz of Aflesh

“We were going to big multi-billion dollar chains like Safeway and Trader Joe’s, but they were all doing this process with pen and paper,” Schwartz said. increase. “Some retailers took the stale technology of a center store and worked together like an IT consulting shop to customize it from the inside out and bend it into a fresh category. We saw a lack of, and ultimately, it wasn’t appropriate.”

These findings led Schwartz to form a company to build technology focused on managing fresh produce at Afresh. Their first product, a software solution for managing the inventory of fresh produce, which Schwartz calls the “Fresh Operating System,” will be used by retailers ranging from small regional retailers to national retailers like Albertson’s. Adopted by grocers of all sizes (Idaho-based grocer will have Afresh technology in 2,300 stores by the end of 2023).

And Afresh’s growth from 200 stores using its technology at the end of 2021 to an expected 2,000 installs by the end of this year means the company will raise an impressive $115 million Series B. There is no doubt that it is one of the reasons why we were able to procure it. A funding round announced this week. The round, led by Spark Capital, brings the company’s total funding to his $148 million.

When I asked Schwartz why so many grocers are so keen on optimizing their fresh food inventory management, he said that even companies like Amazon find fresh food difficult. pointed out.

“If you look at Amazon, they bought Whole Foods because their pure AmazonFresh was struggling to make a business out of direct delivery. But really it was a play to break into this huge part of the retail market and fresh things that you couldn’t get your hands on otherwise.”

According to Schwartz, in a world where more consumers buy commodity foods online, the fresh food sector is becoming the anchor of physical presence in food retail. And although the overall waste rate is fairly low compared to other parts of the food supply he chain, about 4-6% of fresh produce is wasted in stores compared to households. Upon arrival he is over a third scrapped. Reducing the experience of perishable waste grocers using the system can save the grocer’s bottom line significantly.

Afresh’s technology, a SaaS product that runs on an iPad, is all but one of the robotics and machine vision systems being deployed by other startups to help grocery stores manage inventory. It doesn’t have features, but Schwartz says the technology works together.

“This is going to robotics companies, inventory counting computer vision companies, shelf life extension technology, vertical farms, cold chain compliance technology, etc. I think all of these are interconnected. Fresh first technology trends are coming together to solve this growing problem of being strategic.”

And unsurprisingly, Schwartz sees his technology at the center of everything.

“We think of ourselves as the brain, the software layer that ties all these things together,” says Schwartz. “So when robots recognize inventory locations, computer vision estimates product quality, and whether berries are compliant with the cold chain, all that data is optimally fed into our system. We can adapt and make the best outcomes and decisions for retailers.”

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