Sales of food and beverages in U.S. restaurants were $709.24 billion in 2014 – a jump of 24 percent in just six years. With this much revenue at stake, quality consistency is paramount, and Eric Graves is ready to help.
Graves has founded Actionable Quality Assurance, a software development company that will provide predictive analytics for food safety and quality to restaurants, grocers, food growers, processors and distributors. His company will give clients trend information about ingredients or products they use, improving food quality as well as helping to prevent food safety emergencies.
There are companies similar to AQA that track food products in the supply chain, but they provide more of a logistics-based software and do not ensure quality. AQA provides real-time food safety data to its clients throughout the production process. The testing events performed throughout the process are compared to established specifications. This ensures that food products that are out of specification are immediately identified before they reach the consumer.
The data will come from testing laboratories like ABC Research Laboratories that do microbiological and nutritional testing. Graves owned ABC until earlier this year when he sold the 48-year-old Gainesville company to Mérieux NutriSciences Corporation, a French company. ABC is among about 200 companies in the U.S. that do the actual testing.
He described a scenario of what AQA can do for a company:
- Samples and physical characteristics of a food product like chicken breasts are measured by a lab like ABC.
- Software from AQA compares the numbers to the specs required by a restaurant group.
- If it’s in spec, the numbers go into an online database accessible only by the group. If it’s out of spec, an automatic email is generated to the supplier seeking a corrective action report and copied to the group.
- The client also will be able to see a real-time scorecard for the supplier based on how well it is doing compared to others.
AQA, pronounced “aqua,” will work with their clients to provide the software on a subscription basis. “We’re indifferent to where the data comes from. This avoids any conflict of interest between the food testing laboratory and the interpretation of the data,” he said. “Further, this creates the ability for AQA to quickly scale domestically and internationally,” he added.
Graves has already demonstrated the software to 50 or 60 of the largest restaurant chains in the country with great feedback, he said. AQA also exhibited and has been active in the National Restaurant Association study groups that focus on quality assurance.
“As soon as we get our software out of beta testing this summer, we’re going to hit the ground running,” Graves said.
Before buying ABC in 2007, Graves was part owner of a paint manufacturing company in Gainesville. He came to town in 1990 to work for an industrial gas company from the Chicago area where his family owned a similar company. He has an undergraduate degree in economics from Northwestern University and an MBA from University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Remaining near ABC and other labs is not the only reason for him to have established his new company in the GTEC incubator on Hawthorne Road.
“There is an exciting, burgeoning presence of technology companies in Gainesville that creates a support network of software developers,” he said. “We’re trying to increase that mass so that we can compete with cities like Austin, Palo Alto and other upcoming tech locations.”
Right now, Graves has three full-time employees, but he expects to have 20 to 30 within two years, mostly software and business developers.
Ron Wayne is a communicator working with startups in the Gainesville region. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org