Forward Foods, creating healthy and sustainable food products, changed its name to Starday and raised $4 million in seed funding to take on “big food” incumbents.
Equal Ventures and Slow Ventures co-led the round and were joined by Haystack, Great Oaks Venture Capital, XFactor Ventures, ABV and a group of angel investors.
Chaz Flexman, co-founder and CEO, started the Oklahoma-based company in late 2020 after leaving Pattern Brands. He watched digital grocery go from a single-digit market to double digits overnight.
“It feels like a ‘Napster moment’ in the way consumers are now coming online to discover and buy,” Flexman told TechCrunch. “We are measuring their interest and using data to drive outcomes so we can go up against the Nestlés of the world.”
The company’s name change to Starday was just a way to build consumer-facing brands that were a bit more memorable, he added.
The global food and beverages market is expected to reach $7.5 trillion by 2023, with growing demand for foods that are more clean and sustainable, according to market research firm Research and Markets.
Starday’s technology turns data like that into products based on current trends and customer preferences. It is able to test new concepts, gather feedback and make adjustments before putting new food items on the market, Flexman said. It is also able to cut the time a product takes from idea to market down to six months (from 18 months), while also using feedback to plan for other potential brands.
“We use data to let consumers tell us what they want now rather than how Big Food has operated over the years: to follow consumer demand and create nutritionally bad food that is also bad for the environment,” he added.
Its first brand is Gooey Snacks, an all-natural, low-sugar chocolate hazelnut spread that is made without dairy or palm oil. Flexman expects to develop four or five brands during that time, including one more later this year.
Starday went after the seed round so that it could launch more brands like Gooey Snacks over the next 12 months, grow the team, develop new retail partnerships and build out its data and forecasting capabilities. The company has four employees currently, and Flexman plans to be at seven in the next couple of weeks.
Rick Zullo, partner at Equal Ventures, said he knew Flexman from his firm’s investment in Pattern and said Flexman’s vision for a new type of food company was aligned with what Equal’s vision was for the food industry.
Rather than being just a product company, Zullo sees Starday being a platform company, able to drive a new way of eating and way of bringing new products to market.
“Starday is able to provide granular data to understand what consumers want and what will perform best,” he added. “This wasn’t possible when digital grocery was still a nascent concept. They don’t have to do focus groups or testing launches, so it is truly a fraction of the time it takes and is cheaper.”