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GreenChoice Founder Galen Karlan-Mason Discusses Transparency in Groceries

Introduction

The United States is home to a diversity of special dietary needs due to various health conditions, personal values, cultures, and more. While grocery store shelves have an abundance of choices, finding food that fits specific needs can be frustrating and time consuming. When shopping at the grocery, 32 million Americans need to account for food allergies, and 9.7 million vegans have to scrutinize labels to avoid meat and animal products. 

GreenChoice created a customizable mobile app that tells users exactly how a food product matches their needs and values with just a quick scan. The company is now working on an online grocery store with eco-conscious shipping. We reached out to founder and CEO Galen Karlan-Mason to learn more about the GreenChoice team’s personal connection to food and who the company will hire next.

Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

In your own words, how would you describe the company?

Galen Karlan-Mason

GreenChoice is an online grocery marketplace that researches and rates products for conscious consumers. We do the hard work for shoppers, turning hours of research into seconds and guiding people to the best products for their health and the planet.

We’ve evaluated the dietary, health, and climate impacts of more than 360,000 food products and counting, blending conventional research with natural language processing to analyze data from manufacturers, government agencies, research institutes, and peer-reviewed journals. Shoppers use our color-coded health and climate ratings (aka GreenScores®) for products to easily compare options and quickly learn more about what they’re buying, whether on our marketplace or beyond.

We sell more than 10,000 foods, with a shopping experience filtered to each user’s diets, allergies, and values. We deliver both normal and bulk orders within two to four days and estimate and offset the carbon footprint of every order – products, packaging, and shipping. 

Through our work, we help connect better-for-the-world brands with new customers and give brands the data to make their products healthier and more sustainable. Food is just the beginning.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

What inspired you to take the leap and start this company?

Galen Karlan-Mason

It’s way harder than it should be for us to know which products match our dietary needs, are healthy, made ethically, and sustainable.

I was very lucky as a kid. I grew up in Vermont with access to local food and surrounded by a community keen on voting with their dollars. My mom is a therapist who understood that the food we eat impacts our bodies and minds, and she made sure we ate healthy, minimally processed foods. My dad is an environmentalist who practiced and preached “climate action” and “sustainable consumption” before they were buzzwords.

I’ve had food allergies since I was little that have always made grocery shopping hard. As a grad student in Boston, I would always leave the store – after hours of label reading and Googling – frustrated, feeling like I’d compromised on my values or budget and questioning whether I’d made the best choices.

I started GreenChoice because I believe it should be easy to shop your values and that the food and consumer packaged goods (CPG) industries should be much more transparent with us. No one should have to read every ingredient list of every product they might want, decipher confusing labels, and spend hours doing research to figure out what’s actually good for them and the planet. The brands that are doing better are lost in a sea of greenwashing and healthwashing, and retailers are not doing nearly enough to help conscious consumers make informed choices. 

We can do much better. We have the opportunity to bring unprecedented transparency to industries fraught with deception and empower tens of millions of conscious consumers to drive industry change, live healthier, and foster a just and sustainable world.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

Who is on your leadership team and how did you come together? Who is your next hire?

Galen Karlan-Mason

I founded GreenChoice as a grad student at Brandeis International Business School, where I got my MBA focused in sustainability. I have a BS in international and global studies and business, with concentrations in environmental studies and real estate from Brandeis University. I was also a two-sport college athlete. I’m a pescatarian and have multiple food allergies.

Our CTO, Jason McInerney, is a serial chief technology officer and co-founder of data-driven technology companies with one successful exit. Jason has worked on the cutting-edge of data science, developing consumer-facing machine learning/artificial intelligence systems in fintech, e-commerce, advertising, and source code management. Jason has a Master of Science in computational neuroscience and multi-scale biology from UC San Diego. Jason and his family are vegetarian.

We’re a small, hungry, mission-driven team, including a full-time software engineer, product designer, and customer care rep.

Our next hire will be a director of marketing. They will be a scrappy, analytical creative who has experience creating content, building large audiences around brands, and selling products on social media.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

How is GreenChoice transforming the grocery industry?

Galen Karlan-Mason

Never before have we been able to know (in less than a second) a product’s impact on our health and the planet or its estimated carbon and water footprint. Never before have we been able to research and shop for the best products for our dietary needs and personal values in a single place. And we’re just getting started.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

What does the competitive landscape look like, and how do you differentiate?

Galen Karlan-Mason

The US “natural” and organic products industry saw record growth boosted by COVID-19 – growing 12.7% to $259 billion in 2020, and it’s on pace to surpass $300 billion by 2024. “Natural products” make up just a quarter of CPG sales, but they represent over 68% of CPG growth. This reflects a macro shift to conscious consumption.

There are a couple online retailers selling healthy and/or sustainable groceries. History shows us that the US grocery market is not a winner-takes-all market, with online grocers doing hundreds of millions in sales when they are not even in the top 50 largest grocers.

Conscious consumers are thinking about their diet, their allergy, what’s healthy, or what’s sustainable – all at once. But time and attention are more scarce than ever. GreenChoice has seamlessly integrated diet, nutrition, and sustainability research; product discovery; and shopping into a single platform that empowers consumers. 

The research, insights, and GreenScore® ratings we put at your fingertips, regardless of whether you’re buying from us or elsewhere, are unparalleled. And they give us a number of ways to grow beyond e-commerce.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

How do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?

Galen Karlan-Mason

Last year our user base grew 400%, with no paid marketing. With this investment we will:

  1. Build out our new online marketplace and mobile app to ensure the best possible experience
  2. Overhaul our mobile app for smooth scanning and search
  3. Increase our content creation and test affiliate and paid marketing

As we approach $50,000 in monthly revenue this summer, we plan to raise a multimillion-dollar seed round from institutional investors. We plan to grow revenue significantly and quickly.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?

Galen Karlan-Mason

We’ve grown to more than 60,000 monthly users and more than 10,000 registered accounts organically, with just one part-time content creator/writer. We’ve built one of the most comprehensive dietary, health, and sustainability food databases, with a team of graduate students. And we’ve filed for full patent protection in the US and internationally.

With $600,000 raised and a monthly burn rate that has never exceeded $25,000, we’ve built stronger intellectual property and a more powerful shopping platform than indirect competitors with millions in funding. Imagine what we will do with $3 million in seed funding.

We’re on a mission to empower the growing conscious consumer movement, appealing to people who may not be health nuts or hardcore environmentalists but are seeking to eat better and shop with their values, without sacrificing their budget or all their time.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? Have you set any future goals for the company?

Galen Karlan-Mason

We’re going to be the trusted authority in what products are healthy for you and the planet. When someone wonders “Is this really healthy for me?” or “I wonder how this company treats their employees?” or “Is this product sustainable?” GreenChoice will be where they go to find the answer in seconds.

Just like you may think of Glassdoor for employer reviews or Zillow for real estate or Consumer Reports/Good Housekeeping for household appliances, you’ll think of GreenChoice as the place to find products that match your values. 

We’re building the most comprehensive product database of its kind to enable conscious commerce anywhere you shop. 

As for exit opportunities, we’re excited to keep all options open. Right now, we’re focused on continuing to build the best possible experience for our growing community. Our value exists because our community needs us and because they care deeply about our mission. Anything we do will be in line with our purpose to empower a disruptive conscious consumer movement by helping millions shop healthier and vote with their dollars.

Leading retailers and marketplaces recognize the importance of providing a personalized shopping experience that empowers conscious consumers. Amazon and Walmart both recently launched “sustainability-focused” digital product labels (both underwhelming). And the companies that support their e-commerce experiences and sales analytics are looking to expand product intelligence offerings. There are also a number of large digital publishers looking to acquire differentiated commerce-enabled content platforms serving passionate audiences.

We look forward to seeing where Galen and his team take the company. GreenChoice is currently raising on Wefunder.

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About: Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

Léa is passionate about impact investing and sustainability. Prior to KingsCrowd, she worked for Stanford’s accelerator, StartX, helping to select the most promising entrepreneurs. She also led the first award-winning study on the Malawian startup ecosystem. In her free-time, she volunteers to help entrepreneurs in Cameroon, Brazil and Colombia. Léa holds a degree in Anthropology from France and is currently enrolled in the UC Davis MBA program.

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