Edamam co-founder talks bringing nutrition into the digital world and seeking funding for expansion in food as medicine.
When it comes to food nutrition data, there are few companies with better credentials than Edamam, which delivers real-time nutrition analysis and diet recommendations via its proprietary semantic technology platform.
From Nestle and Amazon to Microsoft and The Food Network, more than 70,000 organisations around the world access Edamam’s data to power apps for meal recommendation, food logging and nutrition data. Having recently achieved profitability, the company is now targeting the “food as medicine” movement, and is seeking funding to accelerate its growth in this field.
Longevity.Technology: Despite extensive ongoing efforts to discover new therapies to extend our healthspan, our best options, as renowned Professor Thomas Rando told us, are still diet and exercise! We caught up with Edamam’s co-founder and CEO, Victor Penev, to learn how the company is targeting longevity through nutritional data.
Penev describes himself as a “bit of a biotech and longevity geek” and that this has always been influential in Edamam’s development since it was founded around 10 years ago.
“It all started with a simple realisation – if people are going to live better, get sick less often, and have a better quality of life, they need to have the ability to find the right information about what foods are good for them at any given point in time,” he says.
Old school knowledge – digitised
At the time, food nutrition information wasn’t easily available in a well structured, digital way, so Penev and his co-founder Ianko Ignatiev decided to “use technology to organise old school knowledge”. Edamam has since assembled a database containing nutrition information of around 900,000 food items and more than 2.3 million nutritionally analysed recipes.
While the company initially started out with a direct-to-consumer focus, its founders eventually realised that best way to reach consumers was through the established brands they already interacted with on a daily basis.
“People make decisions about food wherever they are – at the market, at the grocery store, in a restaurant, at work, or talking to their dietician,” says Penev. “So we wanted to meet people where they are and that inevitably meant partnering with businesses that work with individuals. And for us, we aimed to become the nutrition data provider for any business where people make decisions about food.”
Food as medicine
More recently, Edamam has started to broaden its focus into leveraging its nutritional knowledge to benefit people with chronic conditions.
“When you’re close to the industry, you realise how food impacts management of chronic conditions – just by changing diet you can add one or two decades of healthy living,” says Penev. “So for us, it wasn’t about getting into the longevity game, we just wanted to help prevnet people getting sick with chronic conditions or mental illness, and that by itself extends healthspan.”
“In the last couple years, we’ve started working with companies that deal with things like diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, cancer. We started working with genome companies, and we’ve delved into the microbiome and are working with a couple of universities in that space as well.”
Edamam is also partnering with universities on inflammation, providing personalised food recommendations to reduce inflammation.
“Inflammation is probably going to be an underlying cause of most chronic conditions, and ultimately, a culprit of shorter lives,” says Penev. “So from a longevity perspective, eating to reduce inflammation is probably one of the most impactful things you can do.”
Expanding the data
While Edamam is not itself the source of the research that will drive the dietary changes needed to extend healthspan and possibly lifespan, it sees itself as the data source for those who are making those discoveries.
“We are constantly expanding our data, going deeper and deeper, particularly around expanding the compound data in foods,” says Penev. “Right now everyone is tracking the basic 170 or 180 nutrients, but there are 26,000 compounds in those nutrients. What is it in garlic, for example, that cures common cold? What are the compounds, what are the pathways? How does a particular microbe in our gut microbiome react to particular foods, how does it interact with other foods, and how does that respond to absorption of the foods, the gut-brain axis, and all that stuff.”
“We think that lots of people are going to solve these problems in different ways, and we just want to be the data source for those people,” he adds. “We want to understand everything about food and how it relates to you – what’s in your refrigerator, at the grocery store, at a local restaurant? What are the nutrient components of that food, what are the different compounds, and how those compounds can then impact your body at a particular moment in time?”
To accelerate its journey towards this goal, Edamam is currently seeking $3 million in expansion funding.
“A third of that will go towards hiring staff – sales, engineers and nutritionists,” says Penev. “Another third will go towards doing some M&A deals, buying some assets, and the rest will go towards international expansion.”