Seven years’ ago Lucy Needham was sitting in a restaurant with her father looking at menu items and wondering how these compared for calorie and fat content. This triggered a brand new business idea. Through extensive research, she discovered that to obtain food nutritional analysis and create nutrition labels, food professionals had to depend on sending food samples to a laboratory, which was very slow, or using CDs or other third party consultants. CDs were hard to use and geared to nutrition specialists only. She conceived the idea of creating a cutting edge web based technological model as a solution to the food industry’s problem, where the user could easily access the information via a website and produce FDA compliant food product labels and nutritional information in minutes. FoodCalc was born.
In 2005 the initial company product LabelCalc was launched, designed for small to medium-sized food manufacturers and retailers. This proved successful, business grew, and within two years two hundred food manufacturers were using LabelCalc to generate their own nutrition labels. With these developments, Lucy recognized the need to plan much more systematically for company growth and expansion. At this critical moment she came to SCORE in Santa Barbara for advice, and met counselor, George Rusznak.
“George forced me to think big. He told me I should visualize my company as creating a product to meet the needs of the entire food industry, building a brand which would meet all USDA and FDA regulatory requirements, and meeting growing consumer demand for better nutritional information. Our ongoing discussions led me to a much greater understanding of how to set goals, create a meaningful business plan and how to go about marketing my business effectively.”
In 2008, George Rusznak successfully encouraged Lucy to enter the SFentrepreneur Challenge competition for new entrepreneurs. To her surprise, Lucy was voted as one of five finalists, who then each made their pitch live to a panel of three influential entrepreneurs. She won! This opened up a whole network of important contacts, including the California Restaurant Association, which wanted to work with FoodCalc and offer an exclusive deal to their members.
"After the contest last year, I was interviewed by the San Francisco Business Times and two other local publications that led to national interviews with my industry trade publications," said Lucy at the time. "My company's revenue in the past quarter tripled, making the revenue close to the amount generated from the previous full year. The contest was one of my best experiences!"
Now the food industry is changing, and food professionals are becoming much more accustomed to obtaining nutritional information using web based products. In 2007 the company launched a second, new product, MenuCalc, designed for chefs, restaurateurs, dieticians, food writers and recipe authors, to enable nutritional information for menus and recipes to be easily calculated.
Both company products have been extremely well received. LabelCalc now has an impressive client base which includes snack manufacturer Energy Club, airline food service provider Gate Gourmet, and soy yogurt producer Whole Soy & Co. MenuCalc has been utilized by top-level media, e.g. NBC's Today Show and multi-unit restaurants such as Asian Chao and Speciality's Bakery.
FoodCalc, now based in San Francisco, is now anticipating steady growth and employs five full time and two part time workers. The next stage is to set up business partnerships, to facilitate cross marketing and alliances with complementary vendors. In April 2009, FoodCalc entered into partnership with Tundra Specialities, a leading national restaurant equipment and parts supplier. Tundra will offer discounts to its customers off MenuCalc’s fees. As more diners seek to make informed and healthy choices about what they eat, the services provided by MenuCalc are likely to be much in demand for the foreseeable future.
Lucy is very grateful to the ongoing assistance provided by SCORE counselor George Rusznak. “He always asked the difficult questions. He forced me to work not only IN the business but ON the business. Critically, he made me look ahead, and focus on long term development and expansion which has been so essential to our recent growth.”