From Farm to Pizza and Beyond

Zume Inc.(also known by its brand, Zume Pizza) announced their food distribution platform today https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/next-slice-road-ahead-zume-pizza-alex-garden/ so we thought it would be a good opportunity to share our experience as the lead investor in the company.

Why we invested in Zume: An opportunity to reinvent food distribution

The ease of ordering food online is causing more people to eat in. Analysts are forecasting a massive 79 percent surge in the total U.S. food home delivery market over the next five years, from $43 billion to $76 billion. This trend driven by mobile technology has underpinned the growth of food delivery companies such as Grubhub, Seamless, DoorDash and UberEats, as well as pizza incumbents such as Domino’s and Pizza Hut.

The problem with these businesses is that their approach to making and delivering food is incompatible with consumers’ demand for healthier, fresher and faster foods. Indeed, their food supply chain involves far too many steps and thousands of different players having to make suboptimal trade-offs to support the long shelf life required for today’s inefficient delivery systems.

Upstream processes such as warehousing, processing, stabilizing all result in downstream compromises (e.g. added sugars, salts, other preservatives and stabilizers) that lead to profound health consequences. US rates of heart disease, diabetes and obesity have increased 68%, 278%, and 90% respectively in the last 25 years according to the CDC. Despite recent trends towards healthier, more sustainable food, the majority of US consumers’ calorie intake still comes from processed foods containing colors, sweeteners, hydrogenated oils, emulsifiers and other additives designed to stabilize, preserve and enhance flavor.

A team bet, supercharged by the SignalFire platform

When we first met with the Zume team back in 2015, we had a healthy dose of skepticism as we understood the challenges inherent with most delivery food start-ups. However, we quickly realized that this was a team that not only had a completely different vision but also the execution chops to pull it off.

The two co-founders, Alex Garden and Julia Collins, are complementary entrepreneurs combining food, technology and robotics experience. Alex is a 7-time entrepreneur, former President of Zynga Studios and former General Manager at Microsoft. He is an autodidact and insatiable learner whose energy and enthusiasm are infectious. Alex is the kind of entrepreneur that we as VCs only come across very rarely in our careers. His vision and drive, combined with Julia’s domain expertise in the food service and restaurant industry made it a pretty easy decision for us to invest.

SignalFire’s vision is to back the most ambitious founders who have the ability to lead world-class teams and who are pursuing markets that are undergoing rapid transformation. We like to get involved as early as possible to stack the deck in the founder’s favor with incredible talent and access to the best advisors. As a result, we led Zume’s Seed round when it was nothing more than Alex and a Powerpoint presentation. Over time, we have introduced an incredible pipeline of ungettable candidates who have all been awed by the company’s audacious vision and the sheer scale of the opportunity. Driven by Alex’s leadership, we believe strongly that Zume has built over the past two years one of the best all-around teams of any venture-backed technology startup.

An ever-expanding vision

Zume’s initial wedge in the market was to upend the pizza industry by applying better technology to cooking and delivery to produce a healthier, better tasting pizza.

Unlike traditional food trucks and delivery vehicles, which cannot cook while moving, Zume optimizes the baking and delivery process to ensure a customer’s meal is delivered at peak freshness. By baking pizzas on the way to a customer’s destination, the period of time cooked food sits while “en route” is eliminated. This enables Zume to get rid of chemical stabilizers and to deliver freshly baked pizzas faster than any other alternative.

Zume is meeting this challenge with an end-to-end, scalable platform that reduces the time and distance between clean food sources and dense population centers, using cutting-edge automation and transportation logistics. And while Pizza delivery is a $130B a year global industry that impacts the health and well-being of people and the planet, the opportunity for Zume is actually far bigger.

Indeed, Zume is opening up its platform to food companies of all sizes — from quick service and fast casual to Fortune 100 and global restaurants. Through a partnership with Welbilt, the leading global supplier of commercial foodservice equipment, Zume is launching a second-generation version of its patented Food Delivery Vehicles. Equipped with hyper-efficient, custom-built appliances, the Vehicles can be customized for any food partner.

This move is positioning Zume to become the underlying technology platform for the entire prepared foods and food distribution industry. We are excited to continue helping Zume achieve their quest to be the most powerful source of health and well-being on the planet.