“I would like us to reach the projected revenues. But that will be difficult because the foodservice industry is severely affected by the lockdown,” states Thomas Primus, founder of Food Notify, a commodity management system for the gastronomy sector. “The advantage is that large companies are now focusing on digitalization and gastronomy software. Now they have the time and are trying to position themselves more effectively. We are also in the process of improving our system and are now doing things that there was no time for before. At the moment, we’re developing an analysis tool and a catering tool; the latter is for event planning.”
Time for a new challenge
It was 2014 when investment banker Thomas Primus set out on a quest for new professional challenges. The same year that the EU signed into law the updated directive on food allergen listings on labels. He and his wife are enthusiastic recreational cooks and they discussed the problems related to its implementation. While doing that, they came up with the idea of software for the gastronomy sector. A database that registers information on all allergens and additives.
Using the database, the system should be able to calculate the number of allergens in their food. The prerequisite is, however, that the suppliers list any additives in their products and that restaurateurs entered the ingredients for their recipes. This was the genesis of Food Notify.
In November 2014, when the revised allergen regulation came into force, the company generated a turnover of €7000. But the hype was over after just a few months. The restaurant trade discovered that allergen labeling was not subject to strict controls. So the start-up had to improve its system and find out what the actual needs and problems were. Food Notify CEO Thomas Primus in an interview with Innovation Origins:
Photo: From left to right: Adnan Hanic, Mirza Muharemagic, Christina Primus, Thomas Primus
How was your idea for gastronomy software further developed?
The restaurant owners liked it. But they said it would be much better if they could also use it to calculate the contribution margin; for example, if the price of an ingredient were to rise by 30%. So we gradually expanded our recipe management tool.
Nowadays we have a commodity management system that records everything that happens in the restaurant: The goods that are delivered, then collected by an employee, the invoice goes to the accounting department … We digitalize all these processes – right down to the guest who orders a meal. And that works too. Provided that the chef sticks to the recipe. It should be a cycle. If we link the recipe to the cash register, then we have the stock in real-time – and can automatically place a new order when needed. We have saved so much time in those processes that two or three employees can be spared. This means that our focus is mainly on larger companies with two or more branches.
Looking back: What was really difficult?
You can’t please every customer. But if you want to develop a successful product, you have to listen to your customers. If we hadn’t done that, we would still be stuck with the recipe management tool. We have also learned to separate our own personalities from the company. Your own opinion is not important. What is important is the proof-of-concept. It’ s only then that you know that you are on the right track. To be honest, we just found the right model a year ago.
What are you really proud of?
Fantastic feedback. At the moment, I’m training large companies via a webcast. And when they say, ‘This is really cool’, then it feels like a knighthood for us. I also give that feedback to the employees and those are always fun times. It’s also nice to see our level of professionalism soar; for example when we read job applications and see that we are attracting talented people.
How difficult was it to get funding for your gastronomy software?
Funding is still a challenge. But I have a solid base-level of confidence. We didn’t have any funding at all for the first three years. Initially, INITS provided €30,000, but that had to be reimbursed. Later we received €100,000 from AWS (Austria Wirtschaftsservice Gesellschaft, ed.), which we didn’t have to pay back. That got us through the first three years. Then we found an investor who is also a sparring partner and we are very pleased with him.
How are you doing during this COVID-19 crisis?
I would like us to reach the projected revenues. But that will be difficult because the foodservice industry is severely affected by the lockdown. The advantage is that large companies are now focusing on digitalization and gastronomy software. Now they have the time and are trying to position themselves more effectively.
What are your plans for Food Notify in the meantime?
Our ultimate dream is to become an international company. But that’s not so easy, because every market brings its own challenges. We were supposed to participate in the Advantage Austria program in Silicon Valley this summer. This would have given us the opportunity to get in sync with the American market. This was unfortunately postponed because of the COVID-19 crisis.
What advantage does your gastronomy software offer over other systems?
With a system like SAP (NB: the third-largest European software company, SAP stands for Systems, Applications, and Products in Data Processing, ed.) I have to train myself on how to use its processes. Whereas with Food Notify, I take a seat, look at the interface, and can work with it straight off the bat. We wanted to make it so that everybody who uses it can easily understand it. That was a must and we have managed to do that.
Our competition is commodity management systems that are 30 years old. It’s difficult to transition an outdated software environment into a new phase. Back then, corporate management used to work with data from previous years. Nowadays we have entirely different options available due to our ability to network with other systems via APIs (application programming interfaces). We are able to display data in real-time and respond immediately if there are any variations in the KPIs (key performance indicators).
A hotel comprises a bar, a restaurant, a spa … these are separate departments with specific requirements. We don’t handle all of that but focus on the food & beverage segment. We’re specialists in this area – and work with all sorts of interfaces, large and small. We are a stand-alone solution, so to speak.
Not at the moment. We are working reduced hours due to the COVID-19 crisis and are waiting for the situation to settle down again.
Thank you for the interview.
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