BROOKLYN BASED HOWGOOD TAKES A UNIQUE APPROACH TO CONSUMER ADVOCACY BY MAINTAINING THE WORLD’S LARGEST DATABASE ON FOOD AND PERSONAL CARE PRODUCT SUSTAINABILITY
BY BRIAN DUNLEAVY
Alexander Gillett believes Americans have the best intentions when they shop for food. They want healthy, high quality products meat, poultry, fish, fruit, vegetables, and grains raised, grown, or made in an environmentally friendly way.
Unfortunately, at least historically, it hasn’t been easy for consumers to have access to and/or understand information regarding food production and sourcing, and confusing (if not downright misleading) product labeling hasn’t helped. Enter Brooklyn based How Good, co-founded in 2007 by Gillett and his brother, Arthur. In just 12 years’ time, it has gathered the world’s largest database on food and personal care product sustainability.
“My brother and I recognized early on that there was a discrepancy between what people wanted to do and what could easily be done when it came to buying food,” Alexander explained. “If you ask them if they care about the quality of their eggs or how the chickens that produced them were treated, the vast majority respond with an enthusiastic, ‘Yes.’ But if you ask them to tell you the difference between what constitutes cage free, free range, certified humane, or organic, they likely stare at you blankly. It’s actually quite hard to know what all these standards actually mean.”
The Gilletts’ relationship with food and food sourcing started early. The brothers grew up in Forestburgh, NY (about 30 miles west of Poughkeepsie) in an area that had at one time been a vibrant agricultural and dairy farming region.
“By the time we were older kids, that had virtually disappeared,” Alexander said, “but it’s starting to come back now.” To tap into the resurgent farming industry there, HowGood has opened a satellite office in High Falls, near Kingtson and just a few miles from the Hudson River. There, the company works with local farmers to study food production, explained Eva Clark, HowGood’s head of marketing and communications. By consulting with them, as well as gathering data from more than 350 additional sources, she noted, the company’s staff of farmers, data scientists, and researchers has created a “sustainability score” for food goods based on more than 100 industry specific parameters. The scores take into account issues such as labor, processing practices, and water and pesticide use, and have been available to the public since 2014 via a mobile app. Its database includes one million plus products.
In addition to providing consumers with information to make purchasing a more informed process, HowGood is also helping “brands and grocers make better decisions about production and sourcing,” Alexander said. “We now have a lot of the major players in the U.S. food supply chain coming to us and asking, ‘What can we do better to make our products more sustainable?’ These aren’t corporate marketing people, but those who make decisions about product procurement and sourcing. That’s a big change, and it’s exciting to be a part of.”
This summer, the company launched a Google Chrome extension called the “HowGood Product Safety Scanner” that enables consumers shopping for baby products on Amazon to quickly obtain sustainability information, and, if needed, help find alternatives. HowGood is also expanding its ratings programs for cosmetics and cleaning supplies, and is working a Formulation Impact Tool, which will allow brands to view the environmental impact and labor risks of every ingredient in a product’s formulation throughout its entire development process. Resulting sourcing changes can have sweeping and positive impacts. When complete, it will be the first of its kind in the food industry.
“When my brother and I moved to New York, we settled on Brooklyn because there was already a love and passion for the sustainable food movement here,” Alexander explained. “It’s hard to find another community that has such a focus on this issue, and it’s been a great one for us to be a part of. Ours is a platform that helps people effect real change with their purchasing power… helps them live in a healthier, more sustainable way.”