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Former Whole Foods co-CEO joins board of Colorado Springs startup, provides 'sizeable' investment

November 8, 2017 Updated: November 9, 2017 at 6:10 am
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photo - Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market Inc., speaks to a meeting of the Detroit Economic Club in Detroit, Friday, April 13, 2012. A city infamous for its population exodus, joblessness, decay and crime would seem an odd place for an upscale natural and organic grocer. There’s no doubt Whole Foods Market Inc. is bucking a trend, but so is the Motor City neighborhood where it plans to open next year. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market Inc., speaks to a meeting of the Detroit Economic Club in Detroit, Friday, April 13, 2012. A city infamous for its population exodus, joblessness, decay and crime would seem an odd place for an upscale natural and organic grocer. There’s no doubt Whole Foods Market Inc. is bucking a trend, but so is the Motor City neighborhood where it plans to open next year. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) 

Colorado Springs startup FoodMaven is getting a boost - financially and otherwise - from a big name in the food industry.

Walter Robb, former co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, has joined the board of directors of FoodMaven, a business based on "oversupplied" food. Robb is also investing in the company; Patrick Bultema, FoodMaven CEO and co-founder, declined to detail the size of that investment but called it "significant" and "sizeable."

Robb's connections and credibility in the industry, meanwhile, are extremely valuable to FoodMaven, Bultema said. "Obviously, there's some degree of validation to what we are doing to have someone of his stature joining. He has great insights that he brings to us in terms of the food system."

Robb stepped down as co-CEO of Whole Foods at the end of last year in a management shift that left co-founder John Mackey as sole chief executive. Once news of the change broke, Robb was presented with a wealth of opportunities, Bultema said. "We were humbled and honored that we were the first thing he said yes to."

Through an online marketplace, FoodMaven buys surplus food from grocery stores and distributors and sells it to restaurants, institutional kitchens and commercial food preparation businesses. (FoodMaven does not normally reveal its suppliers, but Whole Foods was disclosed as one in a Wall Street Journal article; that relationship is separate from FoodMaven's ties with Robb, Bultema said.) For the suppliers, the marketplace represents revenue rescue for food that otherwise would have been lost," Bultema said. The buyers, meanwhile, get quality food at a significant discount from wholesale, he said. Food that doesn't rapidly sell in the marketplace is donated to charity.

In addition to dealing with surplus food and "imperfect" food, such as high-quality food with minor cosmetic issues, local food is a growing category for FoodMaven. "We have local growers, meat producers and manufacturers that bring their first quality product to us," Bultema said.

FoodMaven, which operates in Colorado Springs and Denver, plans to expand to up to 100 major cities within five years. Currently with 42 employees, it has a goal of $1 billion in revenue and 8,000 employees; it was honored as New Business of the Year last weekend by the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC.

FoodMaven is moving this month into a warehouse near the former Post Time greyhound racing track off North Nevada Avenue that will quadruple its storage space and provide additional office space; it has been using space in Care & Share Food Bank's warehouse near Powers Boulevard.

Robb's investment is just the latest good news for FoodMaven. In August, it received a $383,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

FoodMaven's mission of reducing food waste earned it the Recycling Resources Economic Opportunity grant; it also was a hook for landing Robb.

"FoodMaven is going straight at the growing challenge of food waste and has created an imaginative and innovative market-based approach to using more of what we produce," Robb said in a press release. "I am excited to join with Patrick and team to help with this effort and grow the company."

The National Resources Defense Council estimated in 2012 that up to 40 percent of food in the United States is wasted. More than 130 billion pounds of food ends up in landfills each year.

"There is a general, growing recognition that the food system needs to be transformed and that food waste is a big part of that," Bultema said. He knows of businesses that are providing more limited solutions, such as one based on recovering food that would otherwise get lost in the fields, but none like FoodMaven, which he sees as providing "a missing ingredient of agility and flexibility that the big food system lacks."

"I think we really are a leader," he said.

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