A New Resource Offers FDA-Approved Nutrition Fact Labels,
Ingredient Lists, Recipe Costing, and More
As co-founder of SlantShack Jerky, Lev Berlin needed nutrition labels for his growing business. Unfortunately, navigating that process proved more difficult, confusing, and expensive than expected. So he set about to solve the problem for other small batch makers- taking what he learned from the experience and building ReciPal.
ReciPal offers easy nutrition analysis, FDA-approved nutrition fact labels and ingredient lists, recipe costing, and recipe management- all in the cloud.
We met Lev for coffee in Manhattan to get some more info on what seems to be a great new tool for food entrepreneurs.
To start off, can you give us the ReciPal elevator pitch in just a few words?
We make simple web tools for food businesses. For now, that means nutrition analysis and labeling, ingredient lists, and recipe costing.
ReciPal grew out of your experience developing labels for SlantShack Jerky. Can you talk a little about the frustrations you encountered during that process that led you build ReciPal?
The main problem was that all the options were rather expensive. We had dozens of unique recipes, so our initial thought of sending samples to a lab for analysis would have cost several thousands of dollars. Most food consultants and dieticians (who use ReciPal or similar software) were also charging an arm and a leg. Both of these options require someone else to do the work, so the turnaround time was non-trivial, and with a lab you actually have to ship product samples. Plus, if your recipe changes, you have to go back and start over. I found a couple free services, but they were very bare-bones and not easy to use. Basically, I didn’t find anything that I wanted to use or was willing to pay for, and at the time I was teaching myself web development and thought it would be a perfect project.
Understanding and complying with labeling and packaging requirements can be a little overwhelming-, especially for new producers/makers. How did you go about educating yourself? Was there a go-to source for definitive info?
You’re 100% right, it’s rather overwhelming. There are lots of rules and regulations, which I suppose is one way America can create jobs! The FDA has all the necessary information in their documents, but it’s a lot to take in, written in unclear language, and poorly organized. Most of it is here. There’s a horrendous, but useful page that outlines all the label options here. There’s a good Q&A based guide here that is a great start.
When I was designing our labels, I relied on these sources and more. Plus, I would pick up and look at hundreds of packaged foods and examine their labels, finding similarities and differences to understand the common threads.
How did you build the database of ingredients and data?
The USDA maintains a public database that I was able to use for our initial set of ingredients. In addition to that, since ReciPal is a website, users are able to add their own ingredients that can then be used by everyone.
Who have been the early adopters?
It’s been pretty interesting seeing our customer base. A lot have been food companies that are just getting a bit of traction, usually organic, artisanal foods, since they and their customers care more about labels and that sort of transparency. These companies are usually more the do-it-yourself type and cost conscious, so it’s a great fit. But there have also been some bigger food businesses, restaurants, commercial kitchens, and co-packers. There are apparently a lot of different businesses in the food industry!
Besides ingredient and nutrition label creation, there are other practical uses of ReciPal- it can be used to help analyze costing, pricing, etc, right?
Definitely. I realized there are a few things that revolve around a recipe that food businesses need to understand, and one of the most important is recipe cost. That’s one of those tricky things as a small food business that you don’t want to think about or do the math to understand, so we make it super easy. Then you can make informed decisions about pricing for your website, at markets, and for retail as well. I remember at SlantShack we used to have confusing spreadsheets and it seemed like the numbers were different every time I looked at it.
Later on, we’ll be able to do really interesting things like telling users if they’re paying too much for a certain ingredient based on meta-data from our whole userbase. Once we’re able to do that, we can really make an impact for food startups and the product pays for itself many times over.
Aside from costing, ReciPal is inherently just a nice recipe and ingredient manager. Everything is in one place, available from any device, and you can’t lose that data because it’s online and backed up.
You shared a story about someone using ReciPal to help them test a product concept…
A friend of a friend started doing Crossfit and was making these protein energy balls for his class and everyone was going bonkers for them. But he wanted to test it beyond his immediate circle. He remembered I had told him about ReciPal when he was visiting New York and quickly created a nutrition label along with a simple front of package label. Within a couple of hours he had a professional looking product that he was showing a local organic store manager, who thought it was a real product with a company and team behind it. So now he’s trying to decide whether to crowdfund the project or find a partner to join forces with. I thought it was a great example of using lean practices to get quick, cheap, and valuable feedback.
Let’s say someone wants to get set up with ReciPal- do you offer any consultation or customer service for users?
We really pride ourselves on our customer service. The usual response time to customer emails is probably 30 minutes and we’ve worked hand-in-hand with a number of our customers that have required more custom solutions (children’s labels, estimating nutritional content for an ingredient, etc.).
Some of our bigger customers are also interested in an API, so we’re working together on that. Our users are always giving us great feedback, which we often build into the product.
We don’t offer formal consultations, but are always there to help and are thinking about handling the process for users that don’t want to do it themselves and would prefer someone experienced to do the work.
What about pricing- you have tiers ranging from free to enterprise-level unlimited use, right?
Exactly. For small food businesses it usually ends up being free because we offer a few free recipes when you sign up. Beyond that, it’s either $19 for a single recipe, $49 per month for unlimited recipes, or $99 per month for unlimited recipes for a group (this is great for commercial kitchens and incubators that want to offer a premium service). Even if you cancel your subscription, you’ll be able to edit existing recipes and update them if they change. Wherever you fall, it’s by far the most reasonable option out there.
Finally, any tips for getting the most out of ReciPal?
We have a few “pro” features that make it really simple to create similar recipes. You can copy a recipe, scale a recipe to a different size, and also turn a recipe into an ingredient (an ice cream base is a good example). It removes a lot of the repetition from making recipes. However the biggest thing for getting the most out of it is sending feedback, because almost all of that feedback is realized as a new feature on the website, an enhancement to an existing feature, or just a better experience.