Peapod founders launch online shopping tool Sifter: 'We are a dietitian in your pocket'
Created by brothers Andrew Parkinson and Thomas Parkinson, who founded Peapod in 1989 (which sold to Ahold-Delhaize in 2002), Sifter is an extension of the CPG veterans' mission to help consumers navigate the often complex and time-consuming task of label reading by providing an easy tool to help them sift through thousands of products to find the ones that fit their specific dietary needs and restrictions.
The concept of Sifter emerged from the Parkinson brothers' Peapod spin off, ItemMaster, which provides a comprehensive and verified set of label information for thousands of food products.
"One of the challenges we faced at Peapod is we wanted to allow shoppers to be able to find products based on their diet by looking at the ingredients and the nutrition. And there was really no good database that provided that, which is why we started ItemMaster," Andrew Parkinson told FoodNavigator-USA.
ItemMaster was sold to Chicago-based asset management firm Gladson in 2019.
With the everyday consumer in mind, Andrew and Thomas Parkinson launched Sifter in 2019 and made the technology available to online shoppers in 2021 through Sifter.shop, the company's online platform.
"We launched Sifter really with the objective of helping consumers discover products but then also buy them by linking up to all the retailers that sell their products," said Andrew Parkinson.
"In a very short period, we have over 20,000 people that have come to use it. The people that are coming are definitely the ones that are looking to avoid certain foods," he said.
'In a very short period, we have over 20,000 people that have come to use it'
But Andrew Parkinson notes that the company has done very little in the way of promotion of Sifter.shop platform until it finalizes additional core features of the platform such as its mobile app which would enable consumers to use the platform while shopping in-store.
The potential audience that could benefit from using Sifter includes anyone following a food avoidance diet, which includes 200 million Americans who report following a specific diet to manage certain health conditions, or the 85 million US shoppers who avoid at least one top food allergen when grocery shopping, according to FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education).
Sift and select
To use Sifter, users visit Sifter.shop where they can create a personalized dietary profile using over 100 dietary filters or 'SiftTags' from 'pescatarian' and 'clean-style' to 'no liver' or 'no MSG'.
The platform then sifts through the attributes and label information of more than 100,000 food products (by comparison, a typical grocery store carries between 15,000-20,000 food products) to find items that match a user's criteria.
The algorithms are developed by Sifter's team of engineers who use nutrition criteria provided by the company's chief nutrition officer, Judy Seybold, MS, RDN, LD, CLC.
"You can’t hide behind Sifter, because sifter will tell you the absolute truth of what’s going on inside that product... We are effectively a dietitian in your pocket," said founder and chief product officer, Thomas Parkinson.
Among the people that are coming to Sifter.shop, the majority are searching by allergen-specific tags but the other most frequently used sifting tag is the company's 'clean-style' filter, which is defined as containing five or fewer ingredients and no artificial ingredients.
Sifter also has a 'RecipeSifter' feature in which users can input the URL of recipe to show whether the dish and its ingredients align with the user's health and diet priorities.
Partnering with retailers and brands
So how does Sifter make money? While the platform generates a small sum by allowing brands to include their story on its site, the company eventually wants retailers to integrate the technology into their own e-commerce sites.
"Basically, we give them that personalization functionality just for their assortment and just for their store. Importantly, we're not just focused on doing it for e-commerce but for their in-store applications too," said Andrew Parkinson, noting that eventually Sifter users will be able to scan the UPC code of any product while shopping in-store.
"There's a lot of interest in it," noted Andrew, who said in the company is in talks with several retailers to implement the technology.