Our start-up: FoodLama

Santiago Schmitt is 18 and still at school. He explains how his Chrome extension is changing the way we shop for food
BizAge Interview Team
Co-founders Santiago Schmitt and Damilare Ogunleye

Hi Santiago! What does FoodLama do?

For many households that have multiple dietary preferences, online grocery shopping is a tiring process. From clunky filters to badly organised recommendations and long ingredient lists, it’s hard to discover food products that work for you. FoodLama is here to change that, and to make online grocery shopping easier for those with preferences. FoodLama is an easy-to-use Chrome extension, working just like a smart personal assistant with your familiar shopping site, helping you discover the foods that suit your preferences, get personalised recommendations, and shop with freedom.

What's your biggest strength?

I really think it’s the spectacular and diverse team we have behind us, hugely motivated to make grocery shopping easier, as we’ve each experienced its pitfalls. I’ve been intolerant to corn and allergic to nuts from birth, and come from a household with a gluten free brother and vegan mum and my co-founder, Damilare's wife is now navigating being allergic to fish. Simply, we’re building the product we wished we had, to make the often-complex world of food shopping easier.

In addition, the timing is also a critical factor that makes us poised for success. On the one hand, more and more individuals are growing increasingly conscious of the ingredients in the food they eat, and on the other, these individuals are shopping for their groceries online.

What made you think there was money in this?

I actually came up with FoodLama a couple of years back whilst frustrated by the lack of food choices I found myself with. When I was a toddler, my mum discovered my allergy to corn through a process of elimination, but with it realised it was an ingredient she found almost everywhere she looked, in so many different derivatives and forms. From baby formula to toothpaste, and with such a variety of different names for the same ingredient. Coming from a family each with their own range of dietary preferences, shopping was pretty complicated, and one day, I realised, I only ever had the same food and never tried anything different. Nobody knew what to get!

Grocers as they are today are much like distribution businesses, and don’t effectively cater to the 70% of households with dietary preferences within them. Connecting with my co-founder Damilare, on a platform called StartHawk, we both immediately saw how we could make a difference.

In this space, the competitors that exist can be classed into two categories; B2B apps that are focused on helping grocers improve search results but still don’t make it easy for users to find food that is personalised to them, and D2C scanning apps that help you filter out products during an in-store shop but struggle with monetisation. By focusing exclusively on web, FoodLama is able to cut the hassle from online grocery shopping, and tailor recommendations exclusively to our users.

Where is the business today? 

We’ve just launched our Beta last month, and are raring to go! Having started with ASDA, we’ll soon be expanding to a whole host of UK grocers. We have also built our core technology infrastructure that allows us to serve users across multiple grocers, simplifying how they discover food. Closely related to this, is the thousands of potential users we have spoken to in interviews and focus groups over the last few months, which has led to some really exciting features we are soon set to launch.

What is the secret to making the business work?

The biggest challenge today is the integrity of data sources. While there are laws around how food ingredients should be declared on products, they exclusively focus on the top 14 allergens. Beyond the fact that individuals have way more preferences than these 14 allergens, there are also some challenges around laws. Take for instance, Precautionary Allergen Labelling (PAL), where in a bid to avoid liability, food manufacturers use conflicting labels on a product such that it might say free from a particular allergy but then still say “may contain” that same allergen due to risk of cross-contamination. This leaves a consumer who stumbles on such products unsure of what to do in this instance.

We believe this is a great opportunity where FoodLama can build a system of integrity for these data sources across multiple players in the value chain.

How do you market the company?

At the moment, we’re finding our early users through Facebook Groups. There are hundreds of groups and communities that speak to people with specific preferences, allergies and intolerances regardless of the niche. We’ve approached this by having members of our team build relationships and speaking to users of the groups, and see what really “clicks” with them. This process also allowed us to do our rebrand, changing from our initial name to FoodLama, when we rolled out the Beta.

We also publish weekly blog and newsletters, which contain super helpful articles for shoppers with preferences, helping them discover new products, and try new things. In our marketing, we’re also working with key opinion leaders in the space to create branded content that suits their community.

What funding do you have? Is it enough?

Late last year we raised a £300k pre-seed from a spectacular bunch of UK and international angels, including founders who’d previously sold to Snap Inc. and Twitter, and a board member of Kraft Heinz. We’re going to be commencing our seed round shortly and already started speaking to potential investors, so look out!

Tell us about the business model

FoodLama is currently free of charge and we expect to make money through two streams; premium subscriptions and affiliate commissions from product recommendations on grocer sites. Across the UK and USA, there tens of millions of households that buy groceries online and have at least one member of the household living with dietary preferences. These households already spend upwards £37B on online groceries annually. Our goal is to make the food discovery for these households easier, both allowing them to discover new products and exciting alternatives, but equally for brands and retailers to better display their products.

What is the future vision?

For us, we imagine a world where food shopping and content – whether that be recipes or blogposts – is perfectly tailored to everyone’s preferences, wherever they go. At our core, we are convinced that this vision sits at the intersection of 3 things: educational tools and features that helps you better understand your food preferences, a reliable assistant that helps you easily discover food that is right for you whenever you need to, and a platform that allows food retailers to better connect with their consumers by better understanding their customer’s preferences.

About the Founders

Santiago Schmitt is the co-founder of FoodLama, a browser extension that finds you the food that suits your dietary preferences. It’s much easier than searching through ingredient lists or “free-from” sections, as it’s automatic, integrated into Google, and fits into the way you already shop.

A prodigy entrepreneur, Santiago, who has just turned 18 and is studying for his A-levels, came up with the idea of FoodLama due to his own food intolerances (corn and nuts). Having had severe eczema as a baby, Santiago’s mother had to do her own research to find out what was causing it and eventually discovered his food intolerances. Within his family, his mum is Vegan and brother is also gluten free. In his own words “Growing up in the UK, a place awash with foods from all over the world, should have been exciting, but for a person with allergies to common foods, each new food presents a potential landmine, made more difficult by small print, hundreds of derivatives, and poor labelling or even none.”

With this in mind, it was seeing his mother’s focused attention on food labels, her frustration and occasional mishap, that the idea for FoodLama came to him, age 14. A simple filtering and customisation process that would fit into the online grocery framework and ease life for people like his mother, and now him.

By sending blind-emails to try and get meetings and pitching, often in his school uniform, Santiago built out his vision for FoodLama, and with it, a team. By December 2019, he had formed an informal advisory board and found a multiple-exit chair, and recruited a team of three Imperial College CS undergrads to work, under his supervision and for equity only, to build the prototype. With this in hand, Santiago found his co-founder, Damilare.

Outside of FoodLama, Santiago has spent the last 4 years volunteering as a Wikipedia writer, promoting underrepresented figures. Santiago is also Deputy Head Boy at Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith, London, and currently has offers to study at university in both the US and UK.

Damilare Ogunleye is the co-founder and CEO of FoodLama, a trusted shopping assistant that makes your online grocery shopping easier to find the perfect food products that meet your household’s exact dietary requirements or preferences.

Damilare has over 12 years marketing experience in the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPGs) sector, most recently as co-founder of an e-commerce platform supporting African creatives to monetise their skills, serving over 50,000 consumers with over $4M revenue in 5 years.

Damilare is a fellow of UNCTAD Alibaba eFounders program that annually identifies 25 high-potential entrepreneurs shaping the digital economy. The fellowship program includes an intensive capacity-building program at Alibaba’s HQ in Hangzhou, China covering e-commerce, inventory management and rural commerce, logistics and mobile payment systems, and data analytics.

A member of the Youth Advisory board of OXFAM Work in Progress Alliance from 2017 to 2019, Damilare provided recommendations on the scope and impact of the program in Nigeria, which focuses on capacity building for SMEs and young individuals. He is an alumnus of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program, a beneficiary of the World Bank GEM Business Plan Grant, as well as Systemspecs NITDA seed funding. Damilare was also a Top 50 Finalist at Startup Istanbul 2017, and CEO of one of the top 30 startups at DEMO Africa in 2017.

In the past, Damilare worked as a manufacturing supervisor in the culinary manufacturing unit of Nestle Nigeria, leading a team of 45 people. He also worked in the marketing communications industry at one of the leading advertising agencies, designing and executing multimillion dollar marketing plans of leading CPG brands.

Damilare co-founded and raised about $300k for the Nigerian Oil and Gas technology Hackathon (NOGTECH), Nigeria’s first incubator programme for early stage technology founders in the energy industry. In 2018, convinced about the power of youth leadership and civic participation, he managed the historic campaign of the youngest ever presidential candidate in Nigeria’s democracy, Chike Ukaegbu.

Damilare is a graduate of Chemical Engineering from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. He also has a postgraduate award in Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) and migrated to the UK in early 2021 as an exceptional digital talent.

Written by
BizAge Interview Team
May 16, 2022