Nobody has the time to stand at a supermarket aisle to decipher the complicated ingredients list at the back of a product. People with food intolerances and allergies find it hard to get their hands on food products that suit their intake. People following certain diets also find it difficult to get the right products. Peel is an app that uses OCR technology to help its users quickly analyze the ingredients list in accordance to their diet requirements. It saves time and effort, and is highly useful for people that have different limitations in their food intake. In conversation with Co-founder of Peel, Rami Hallal, we learn more about the app and how it can be used.
What is the startup/product about? Give us a brief description of it.
Peel detects ingredients on food labels and highlights ones that do not fit your food intolerance (Gluten, Lactose, Yeast, …) or the diet you follow (Vegan, Palm Oil Free, No Artificial Sweeteners, …).
How many co-founders are there? Please introduce them and their backgrounds. If there are multiple co-founders, please mention how did you meet one another
Joe K. > co-founder and the technical lead on the team (he’s the brain behind developing the algorithm that uses OCR to detect and classify ingredients off of food labels). Previously worked in dev studios and a bunch of startups.
Ralph Choueiri > co-founder and the marketing lead on the team who does his magic and talks to users, gets them to discover Peel, gets their feedback, and then feeds that into the product roadmap. Ralph was previously a GM of his family business (Audiotec group) and also was part of the OLX team in Lebanon.
Rami Hallal > I’ve previously worked at Booz Allen Hamilton as a consultant. Then joined Yahoo based out of Dubai for a couple of years. Then founded my first startup Blink My Car. Ralph and Joe were part of that journey too.
We all met a while back. We’re childhood friends
How big is the entire team currently?
Prefer not to mention that. We’re still a small team, mostly relying on experts to support our endeavor.
How did you come up with the idea? What motivated you to do this?
I’ve had Gluten and Cow Dairy intolerance for quite some time now. And I’ve always found it hard to decode ingredients on food labels, especially when the label does not have a certification (e.g. Gluten Free). So I thought there must be a better way…
Bottom line the idea was a solution to a personal problem 🙂
What is your target market? Why do you think your product will appeal to?
The product should be helpful to anyone who suffers from food intolerance or follows a certain diet and faces a food product with a questionable ingredient, this can happen:
- At the supermarket when grocery shopping
- At a restaurant when reading the food menu*
- At work if a colleague offers you some treats*
- At home when shopping for groceries online* (yes! Many of our users scan their laptop screens with their phones when shopping on Amazon and Whole Foods)
For scale, 8% of children in the USA (2 students per classroom) suffer from a food allergy. (source: CDC). This does not even account for food intolerances amongst children.
Add to that: adults. Add to that: people who follow strict diets, beyond allergies/intolerances e.g. Vegan diet, Paleo diet, Palm Oil Free diet.
(*) Check the question on competition
What are the marketing plans apart from the product hunt/beta list launch? How are you planning to acquire new users?
We mainly plant the seed and communicate with users via online communities on Facebook and Reddit. From there on, word of mouth has been the main driver of user acquisition.
Do you have a separate dedicated team to take care of marketing (digital marketing/traditional marketing)? Which digital platforms are you focusing more on?
No separate team for the marketing effort.
We all do marketing, we all talk to users. Helps everyone be on the same page and on the same level of knowledge with regards to what our users are suggesting and more importantly what are their latest needs (in relation to how Peel is evolving).
What according to you is the biggest challenge that you faced? Is it product development or marketing or scaling or … ?
Definitely product development.
It took us 12+ months to get our scanning algorithm to achieve a very high confidence score, which then made us comfortable to launch the product.
Who are your competitors/alternatives? What sets you apart from them?
Competitors 1: Barcode scanning apps – although we believe we could complement each other.
Competitors 2: Google
The reason why Peel is versatile (referring to the answer to the target market question above) is that it does not rely on barcode scanning technology (other barcode scanning apps are at the mercy of static barcode databases, limited to geographical regions resulting in limited data points, sometimes outdated).
Peel relies on Optical Character Recognition, so it reads and analyses ingredients lists off of any label or food menu or brochure. With Peel, as long as there are ingredients, in English, you’re getting a real-time assessment reflective of the latest studies and findings for every diet available on Peel.
Three more benefits when using Peel:
- You can have multiple diets selected in Peel (in my case, I am Gluten and Cow Dairy intolerant) so when scanning with Peel, I get a combined recommendation based on both diets. This is really powerful. Imagine someone with 3 different diets (they’re intolerant to gluten, milk, and are also following the Palm Oil Free diet), reading the ingredients list with the naked eye becomes a tough one :/ With Peel, it takes less than a second.
- You can easily switch the diet preferences and scan again. This helps family members when they’re shopping for other members with different intolerances or diets.
- Peel also includes a Search Engine for users who want to look up a single ingredient. This can be helpful when you’re wondering about a single strange ingredient on a food package, or when you’re preparing a recipe with a bunch of ingredients you’re not sure if they fit your diet.
What are the future plans with the product/startup? Any new features you are planning on?
Yes, we’re working on launching Android 🙂
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