Clear Labs uses kickstarter to fund ‘consumer reports’ for food quality

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Have you ever spent a little more money on a supposed “premium” brand of hot dogs? You know, the ones that claim to be all-natural and contain 100 percent beef? The truly unnerving thing about hot dogs is you still don’t quite know if spending a few extra bucks means you’re getting something more healthy. It’s something food analysis startup Clear Labs aims to do something about, and today has launched a crowdfunding campaign to make it happen.

It’s often weird when venture-backed startups turn to crowdfunding platforms. Somehow it feels like someone double-dipping a potato chip: There’s no law against it, but it’s hard not to feel a little grossed out when you see it happen. Clear Labs, a food analytics company hoping to raise $100,000 on Kickstarter shortly after receiving $6.5 million in funding, knows this might be the case.

“As is typical for most venture-backed startups,” co-founder Mahni Ghorashi told me, “we raised just enough to hit our milestones and get the company where it needs to be for the next round of financing.” The costs of making the consumer-facing reports Clear Labs will make when the Kickstarter campaign finishes weren’t included in the financial model the company used to fundraise.

First, a little more about the reports themselves. Clear Labs was founded to analyze on a molecular level the foods people might find in grocery stores. The company is currently focused on selling its services to members of the supply chain, but it’s introducing a Clear Food division that will tell consumers about all the potentially gross things they’re picking up off the grocery store shelves.

This will be a costly endeavor. For each report Clear Labs needs to buy foods, catalog them, run it through a series of tests, then analyze the results against its own database and several public domain databases it uses to inform its findings. When all this is done the company will assign different brands a Clear Score ranging from zero to 100, which is supposed to indicate the accuracy of the brand’s labeling in terms of ingredients, nutrients, and other information.

Clear Labs estimates this will cost $10,000 per report; the campaign will fund 10 of these reports, which will be published once a month, after which the hope is they’ll be funded in other ways. (The idea is that revenues from the business-focused side of Clear Labs will be able to subsidize reports after the first 10.)

“After these first 10 reports, we kind of see consumers demanding more and more transparency in the industry and having a bigger say in what does the industry adopt,” Ghorashi said. “The cadence might slow down a bit, given that we’re not crowdfunding additional reports, but we still hope to keep the initiative going and to provide value to consumers on an ongoing basis.”

Ghorashi and his co-founder, Sasan Amini, also say the consumer-facing reports could help Clear Labs land more enterprise customers. Turning to Kickstarter is supposed to make consumers even more interested in learning more about their food; backers will be able to choose the categories examined by Clear Labs, and having a little skin in the game is a sure way to keep people’s attentions focused.

There’s also the potential gross factor associated with each category. The first report focused on hot dogs — probably the most disgusting foodstuff on Earth — and claims made by different brands. It found that many “vegetarian” dogs aren’t, that a small percentage of hot dogs contained human DNA, and that hot dogs supposedly made from something other than pork do, in fact, contain pork. (That’s the kind of shit — possibly literally, in terms of the human DNA — people like to gross each other out with on Facebook and viral email threads.)

Clear Labs will have to overcome the stigma of a fairly-well-funded startup turning to the masses for even more money. But once it does that, it’s not hard to see the company’s reports becoming popular among people curious about their food.

“We’re super excited to launch Clear Food on Kickstarter and start to measure consumer demand,” Ghorashi said, “and we believe the data we’re going to publish over the next six to 12 months will grab consumer attention, and the attention of industry as well.” That’s probably the understatement of the year.

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