Food might be our universal language, but it turns out food manufacturers struggle to translate all that is going on within their company.
Specifically, those in the food industry are typically scribbling down things on random pieces of papers or spreadsheets. That means hundreds of crucial quality and production data points aren’t easily accessible, leading to costly mistakes.
McNamara describes Allera as an “operating system for food.” As a vertical SaaS platform, the startup helps food manufacturers not only go digital, but also automate their processes.
Companies are tracking food safety regulations, allergen screenings, and food waste data throughout the manufacturing and shipping process. Allera allows a food company to put all those data points into one space. Then using AI, Allera helps provide key insights into what is missing or going wrong throughout the production process.
The Food Safety World
Streamlining the food industry’s operations is certainly important for businesses, but it also impacts consumers who pick up that food at a grocery store or restaurant.
It all comes down to food safety, says McNamara.
Undeclared allergens are a huge problem in the food industry, leading to 44% of all FDA (Food and Drug Administration) food recalls. Each of those recalls can cost a manufacturer several million dollars.
“Nutrition is so big now. But food safety actually precedes nutrition. You can’t have nutritious food if it’s not safe,” McNamara told Hypepotamus.
McNamara got into the food safety world through his own experiences with severe allergic reactions. The first iteration of Allera was designed to help individuals detect allergens on their plate. But last August, the startup realized they could address the allergen issue more upstream in the supply chain and help food manufacturers.
The team recently closed an oversubscribed pre-seed round of $750,000, led by California-based 1517 Fund and Tennessee-based Brickyard VC.
While Allera started in Atlanta, McNamara said he initially thought he would have to look elsewhere to scale the company. He was looking at investor hubs like New York or California, or at food manufacturing hubs across the Midwest.
But he ended up moving the startup to Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“What really kept us around was Brickyard,” he told Hypepotamus.
The capital and the community provided by Brickyard, an early-stage capital and founder outpost, led McNamara and his team to pack up and move to Chattanooga this September.
He credits Brickyard’s network and its connections to the local food manufacturers for helping the early-stage startup gain more traction.
“Brickyard gave us a home. I was fiercely committed to in-person and [Brickyard] gave us an excuse to bring our team here and do that. Just being in person every day [means you can] grow exponentially faster. I think it’s a huge advantage for a company,” he added.
McNamara said that building tech in the food space requires spending time inside of facilities. That means putting on hair nets and safety jackets to really understand how each company runs their daily operations and helping them really understand what moving from “pen and paper” to a digital process will look like.
“It’s such a relational industry,” he added.
Right now, McNamara said the team is looking to meet with more food manufacturers as they look to scale in 2024.