I remember a care-free time when salmonella and E. Coli were confined to rotten eggs, bad meat and the occasional unfortunate fast-food chain. That age of innocence has passed. Now dangerous bacteria could be everywhere, not only in your beef but in your packaged spinach, your green onions — even that innocent-looking jalapeno you’re about to eat. But YottaMark, a Redwood City, Calif. company, has just raised a $10 million second round of funding to help you take a stand.
The company has developed a low-cost way for fresh produce companies to track their goods from the farm to the grocery store and offer their consumers a way to do the same. Using a 12-digit code printed on the label or affixed to the packaging, consumers can visit a website, send a text message or a picture of the label taken with their mobile phones and get info about the history of their produce: Where it was grown, when it shipped and everywhere it’s been along the way.
Providing this degree of transparency, the thinking goes, will let produce companies reassure their customers — both retailers and consumers — that the fresh food they buy comes from reputable sources and is not going to make anyone sick. It also allows the these companies to find out if, say, a shipment of blueberries bound for Mexico actually ended up in Texas, instead. While the company won’t disclose its pricing structure, the fact that the technology relies on printable codes instead of more expensive alternatives like radio-frequency identification tags (RIFD) means it can actually be deployed on every unit sold.
While it’s hard to picture mass-market consumers actually visiting a website to type in 12 digits from their package of strawberries or taking a picture of a bar-code on some bananas and sending it in, this may not actually be the point. Perhaps the marketing value for produce companies comes from being able to claim that goods can be tracked to the source.
YottaMark is also targeting its offering at electronics companies concerned about counterfeit goods marketed under their brands. Back in April, VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi looked at this issue and reported that approximately one-in-ten tech products sold is fake. The company has yet to announce any customers using it to combat this problem, but says it will soon. However, while RFID will remain too expensive for produce for a long time to come, it’s not clear how YottaMark will sustain its competitive advantage in more expensive electronics as the price of RFID technology declines.
The $10 million came from Granite Ventures and included ATA Ventures and Thomvest Ventures and will be used to expand YottaMark’s sales and marketing efforts. ATA and Thomvest participated in the first round, whose total has not been disclosed.