We caught up with Fiona Lee, co-founder of Pod Foods, to find out just how this company bridges the gap between brands and retail.
What is Pod Foods and how did it start?
Pod Foods is a B2B marketplace that connects brands with retailers. We’re logistics-enabled and data-driven, which is how we differ from other marketplaces out there.
We provide a full distributor experience to both brands and retailers, and we consolidate orders into a single delivery to the retailer. This way, we’re able to work with products that require cold chain (frozen and chilled products), as well as heavy products,such as beverages.
Pod Foods started because my co-founder and I used to own a cookie business. We got to the stage where we needed to break into retail, and that’s when we realized food distribution was difficult to navigate.
We came up with the idea for Pod Foods to enable brands to jump the hurdles that we had encountered. Despite launching with an initial scrappy prototype, we amassed customers quickly. Our growth was rapid and we quickly expanded into operating nationwide.
Has Pod Foods redefined food distribution?
Yes. There is still much to be done, but I think we’ve opened up a whole new way of approaching food distribution. Traditionally, this industry has always been driven by supply — retailers have to purchase from the inventory that distributors carry in the warehouse.
Pod Foods is demand-driven. Because we don’t hold inventory, we’re able to provide retailers with a massive assortment of products and recommend what they should purchase based on our data points of what consumers are purchasing.
It’s comparable to the difference between ordering from Amazon (which has an endless selection) or from a physical retail store (which is more limited).
This is the concept of virtualized wholesaling, where we’re able to present a retailer with an almost unlimited selection of products for them to optimize their shelf space.
Who do you work with?
We work with brands of all sizes — our core market being emerging brands. We also work with any form of retailer that’s interested in buying these products; grocery stores, online or physical retail stores, restaurants and foodservice companies — essentially any business that wants to buy wholesale for resale purposes.
Do you focus on specific food products?
The brands we work with focus on natural, healthy, and sustainable goods. Beverages as a category has also been pretty strong for us due to a high level of innovation, as well as quick shelf velocity.
We tend not to carry products that are highly processedor that contain chemicals, additives, or preservatives as this is not where the market is headed.
We also work with some non-food products such as shampoo and toilet paper — but all in the same vein of being sustainable, good for you, and a healthier alternative to what else is out there.
How are you tackling the growing concern of sustainability?
The most obvious way we approach sustainability is by providing a distribution channel for all the brands that manufacture sustainable products — we help them to get their products out to market, and help them grow.
At the same time, we’re constantly striving to become a more efficient distributor. Distribution itself is essentially transportation and logistics, so we try to optimize our routes and deliver products with the least amount of travel involved.
We also pay a lot of attention to inventory optimization. Our goal is to minimize food and packaging waste as much as we possibly can.
What hurdles have you met along the way?
Starting the company was a challenge in itself. It was like the chicken and egg scenario (and continued to be as the company grew), choosing which brands to work with, and then which retailers, and vice versa…
Awareness of health and the environment has really shifted over the last few years, but when we started out, it was quite challenging convincing people that our platform would actually work with the brands that we chose to promote.
Fundraising is always difficult but I think we struggled more than most, as we’re a very “young” company in all senses of the term.
How do you see the future of Pod Foods?
Data is the name of the game. As we continue to grow the platform and distribute more products, we’re constantly collecting more data which allows us to provide more insight to our customers. This enables them to make better decisions.
For example, we’re able to see what products are selling where, at what price, and how long they take to sell. With all this information, we’re able to optimize inventory needs and feed back to the brands.
We can also optimize recommendations for our customers. We can see trends and therefore focus on what customers actually want, too. These data points can really help accelerate the growth of both retailers and brands.