You’ve probably heard of the South Beach Diet and the Atkins Diet, but are you ready for the Smartphone Diet? The makers of an app called Fooducate promise to turn your smartphone into a personal diet guru that will tell you: Don’t eat that, eat this instead.
Fooducate’s founder Hemi Weingarten has an ambitious goal, "Hopefully one day we'll be considered the Weight Watchers (WTW) of a new generation."
CNBC gave him 60 seconds to prove he can pull it off. You can see his Power Pitch and judge for yourself, plus see what a “Top Chef Masters” winner and a venture capitalist have to say about his app.
Weingarten said the idea for Fooducate came after he became a dad. Like many parents he struggled to make healthy food choices for his kids and supermarket shelves stocked with snacks like glow-in-the-dark yogurt didn’t make it any easier. "I read a nutrition label and I couldn't understand what was in there, and I'm not a stupid guy," Weingarten told CNBC. So to help make choosing smart foods easier Weingarten crossed grocery shopping with a smartphone and called it Fooducate.
"Fooducate is a personal grocery adviser, helping people make healthy food choices for their families," Weingarten explains on the company's website.
What Weingarten created is a free app that turns your cellphone camera into a barcode scanner. When users scan a grocery item’s UPC code with their phone the app delivers a letter grade based on the food’s nutritional value and ingredient list; grades range from "A" to "D-." Nutrient rich foods with no processed ingredients are rewarded A’s while a food that is, for example, packed with vitamins but also full of artificial ingredients and tons of sugar will score much lower.
But the app goes beyond just grading the foods, it also suggests healthier choices, Fooducate “simplifies everything to a letter grade and offers name brand alternatives that are available on the shelf next to the product that you're looking at," said Weingarten.
For example one of the most popular products scanned by Fooducate users is Nutella. According to the app, the popular hazelnut-flavored chocolate spread gets a “C.” Users can see why it earned that grade by clicking on an explanation tab within the app, they can also shop for alternatives suggested by the app like Earth Balance’s Coconut & Peanut Spread which earned an “A.”
Weingarten told CNBC the company’s database already includes more than 200,000 food products, and for the barcodes the app does not recognize, users can upload photos to Fooducate so the company can add the item to its database. He said the app receives hundreds of submissions every single day crowdsourced from shoppers in grocery stores all over the country.
"I think that's quite a nice advantage compared to up-and-coming companies that are trying to break into the field," Weingarten explained.
The founder told CNBC Fooducate has been approached by other companies to license its data, and while he won’t disclose which companies have deals in place, users can see the Fooducate grading system in action on eBay’s (EBAY) shopping app RedLaser.
Fooducate makes money on the free version of the app through advertising and offers a premium version for $4.99, which includes more options, customization and zero ads. Both versions are available on iPhone (AAPL) and Android (GOOG). Weingarten told CNBC the real opportunity is with the health care industry. "Food is something that has not been really touched upon seriously by employers and by health plans, and I think Fooducate is poised to take advantage because of what we've done so far.”
Currently Fooducate is only available in the United States but plans to expand globally.
Since its founding in 2010, the company has raised under $1 million from angel investors and Kima Ventures. Weingarten said the company is set to break even this year. This is not Weingarten’s first start-up, he co-founded MDRM, a digital content distribution company, which sold to SanDisk in 2005.
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Check out the Fooducate app in action in the above video and see if you think Weingarten and his start-up deserve an "A." Weingarten delivered his Power Pitch to CNBC host Mandy Drury @MandyCNBC along with Power Pitch panelists: Restauranteur, “Top Chef Masters” Winner and “Chopped” Judge Marcus Samuelsson @MarcusCooks and Blueprint Health founder Brad Weinberg @bphealth.
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