Denver Business Journal: Colorado’s FoodMaven is turning ‘lost’ food into a winning strategy
“Because the mission is so good, it allows us to recruit people a company this size couldn’t get.”
Just seven months after expanding into its second market within its home state of Colorado, FoodMaven — a produce and packaged-foods re-seller — is gaining significant national attention.
It’s raised nearly $9 million in funding, brought some of the biggest names in the food system into its inner circle, and been invited to keynote a national agriculture forum later this month.
The Colorado Springs-based company, which first moved into Denver in July, is attracting notice because of its business model is being seen increasingly as a way to deal with the 40 percent of food in the U.S. food-service system that is wasted annually.
FoodMaven gathers food rejected by grocers and distributors because of oversupply or lack of aesthetic appeal, and it’s re-selling that “lost” food food to restaurants, hospitals and other food providers. Unsold food goes to hunger relief organizations instead of landfills.
The company’s early backers include Walter Robb, the former co-CEO of Whole Foods Market who is now a member of FoodMaven’s board of directors, and members of the Walton family, founders of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., who led an $8.6 million Series A financing round that the company completed on Jan. 9.
FoodMaven co-founder CEO Patrick Bultema said the new money is valuable to his company’s growth. It will help it to build out the infrastructure crucial to its growth, while also funding the hiring of new executives and aiding in technology development.
But he added that the connections to leaders who have run some of the largest and most influential grocery stores in America may be even more important.
Strategic food suppliers have reached out to FoodMaven in order to work with the company, allowing the company to boost its business significantly in its existing markets and to prepare for its first out-of-state expansion, which Bultema expects to begin as early as September.
“It’s a huge validation and recognition that what we are doing is meaningful,” Bultema said. “I’m spending a lot of time with prospective financial partners.”
Bultema and co-founder Dan Lewis had built a network of roughly 120 suppliers in Colorado Springs before deciding to expand into Denver. That network now is 800 companies large.
FoodMaven is getting ready to open a 25,000-square-foot logistics facility in its hometown while seeking more space in Denver as well.
Bultema’s plan, especially as more food suppliers and food buyers from outside Colorado reach out to him, is to have the company operating in 50 different metro areas in the next three years. And his backers think that goal is realistic.
Chris Onan — co-founder of the Denver-based tech school Galvanize and now a board member and an investor in FoodMaven — said he’s seen companies raise their interest in the company for a simple reason. Once they understand that hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of food is lost in landfills each year, they believe the idea of capturing and reselling it at prices below those offered by many distributors just makes sense, Onan said.
“I love the mission of what FoodMaven does. And because the mission is so good, it allows us to recruit people a company this size couldn’t get,” Onan said.
It also allows key opportunities for raising the company’s visibility. Bultema, for example, will keynote the Feb. 23 food-retailing luncheon at the 94th annual U.S. Department of Agriculture Outlook Forum in Washington, D.C. Some 1,600 agribusiness, farming and international organizations are slated to attend the forum.