Two generations ago, the average grocery store stocked around 15,000 items. Today, your corner grocer might have 45,000 units of food for your pantry. Some of those items might be better for your health than others, but knowing exactly what to look for can be as daunting as keeping your kid from grabbing an extra pack of Oreos when you're in the snack aisle.
Enter Supermarket Spree, a forthcoming smartphone app from Struts and Springs which was founded by former American Express and Time Warner executive Jon Kiehnau.
"In the last 10-to-15 years, there's been a huge upswing in interest from the population in natural foods and organic foods," Kiehnau said. "There's so much news floating around and so many great books out there and sources that are giving people information, but it's hard to process. Spree's designed to simplify all that information and give people one place to know why, what and how the food recommendations are right for them."
The colorful app helps users set food goals in categories including Better Brain, Exercise Support and Everyday Well-being. It then points you to foods that can help you reach those goals and gives you health benefit information. For example, I had no idea asparagus could help calm your brain, but Spree says the veggie's Vitamin B and other goodness do the trick.
There are also preparation tips, but Spree's best feature could be data on which stores sell which foods along with their prices.
"A lot of what Spree wants to do is to bring some of this technology from the back of the store that American stores do so well, such as supply chain management and pricing and availability, and bring it up to the front so that people can know what they should be buying for their own personal health,: Kiehnau said.
That requires business partnerships with grocery store chains, which Kiehnau and his co-founders are currently negotiating. They are also talking to investors along with developers, data scientists and graphic designers who share his goal of helping shoppers curate the firehouse of health and food data.
"Whenever I talk about the app, people get excited about it," he said. "We have no shortage of people saying they want to help us."
When asked about competition, Kiehnau points to his advantages: the latest research on grocery shopping trends and attitudes from Seattle's Hartman Group; his company's own findings after studying local food shopping habits for six months, and valuable knowledge and mentorship from WIN Reactor, the Washington Interactive Network's startup accelerator program. (A previous company profiled by KING 5 called Evolution Controllers is another WIN Reactor startup).
Kiehnau believes his team of co-founders is another point in his favor, since it includes Seattle-area health professionals. Joe Pizzorno, N.D., founding president of Bastyr University and the author of "Total Wellness," was an appointee to special medical commissions in both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Carrie McMillin, N.D., is a medical writer and health educator.
Myron McMillin is a Seattle game designer and mobile technology strategist. Jerry Liu rounds out the Spree co-founder team.
Kiehnau says he hopes to have the Spree app ready for top mobile platforms by early 2014. Where does he hope the company will be after a year?
"I'd love to have Spree changing the lives of families and helping them eat healthier," he said. "I measure that one family at a time. So each time we're able to touch somebody's life and change their relationship with food, or change their understanding of how food helps them reach their health goals, we succeeded."