Crisp invigorates the food supply chain with data
An interview with founder and CEO Are Traasdahl
The Norwegian American
Norwegian entrepreneur Are Traasdahl is a legend in the world of business and innovation. Over a decade ago he founded the advertising technology company Tapad, Inc., which Norwegian company Telenor acquired in 2016 for $360 million. Later that same year, Traasdahl founded Crisp, a company that uses data to address the 21st century dichotomy of widespread food insecurity and immense food waste.
In the last five years, Crisp has made significant strokes forward in smoothing out the connections and information between different parts in the food supply chain.
I was excited to have the chance to interview Traasdahl to learn more about the vision behind Crisp and the impact it has had on the food supply chain so far.
The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Courtney Olsen: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up in Norway? What brought you to the United States?
Are Traasdahl: I was raised in Sør-Trøndelag, in a small village of less than 10,000 people. My family was filled with idealists and activists for both social and environmental causes. I vividly remember my dad in his office writing thousands of letters on behalf of Amnesty International on his typewriter to help address injustices in the world. The path I chose as a tech and business entrepreneur was not necessarily my expected one.
After finishing my studies, I moved to Oslo and began working for PA Consulting Group. Telenor, one of the world’s largest mobile telecommunications companies, then approached me to work for them. At the time, Scandinavia was at the forefront of mobile technology, and they eventually sent me to the United States to start a new company on their behalf.
CO: Tell me about founding Crisp. Where did the idea for this company come from?
AT: In 2016, I was fortunate to sell Tapad, a company I founded, as one of the largest venture-backed exits in New York. After the sale, I wanted to take some time off and spend it with my wife and our kids, then 4 and 8 years old. We had the privilege of traveling for 14 months to over 30 countries—it was truly the trip of a lifetime. During our travels, I witnessed the staggering imbalance of the food system. This made a deep impression on me, certainly influenced by my upbringing. When we returned to the States, I began meeting with my serial technology partner Dag Liodden, who also grew up in a Norwegian family deeply passionate about social issues. After hundreds of hours of research and meetings with experts in the industry, we determined that the root cause of food waste is slow-moving, unused data. And that’s when we founded Crisp.
The food supply chain is ripe for a real-time, single-source-of-truth data solution to help address the mismatch of supply and demand that simultaneously creates growing food insecurity and waste. Dag and I personally invested an initial $12 million to allow Crisp to focus on building world-class technology and products the right way. We are joined by an amazing team and partners in the food industry working together to solve this problem.
We’re founded on what we call a double bottom line approach. If our customers succeed, they drive more profits for themselves and revenue for us, and together we can contribute to solving one of the world’s biggest problems.
CO: What are the objectives of Crisp?
AT: Our retail supply chain is complex: in the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) sector alone there are over 200,000 companies trading with each other, 3.7 million farms, and 45,000 grocery stores. There is incomplete, disconnected information between them, which impedes the supply chain’s agility and ability to meet consumer demand, resulting in both shortages and tremendous waste simultaneously. But as we’ve seen especially this past year, combating vulnerabilities in the supply chain has gone from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have.
We have the opportunity to transform CPG commerce from a disjointed web into a seamless programmatic commerce model that facilitates collaboration between all trading partners with unified, real-time data. This model will proactively keep ahead of rapidly evolving consumer behavior, identify disruptions, deploy resources, predict traffic across channels, track inventory, and replenish both virtual and in-store shelves at speed and scale. The result will be a supply chain that is truly data-led, consumer-first, predictive, agile, and resilient.
CO: Now that Crisp has been in operation for five years, what are you most proud of the company for?
AT: When we founded Crisp, we thought about the work culture we wanted to build as much as the product we wanted to build: a place where our team is supported and energized to do the most rewarding work of their careers. So, it gave me great pleasure to announce that Crisp was named one of the year’s Best Workplaces in Inc. Magazine. Crisp was founded on the belief that we can make a positive impact in the world through efficiency and technology.
Our goal is to avoid waste in the food industry and create a work culture for our employees that is both collaborative and fulfilling for an entire career. Our first company value is that “our parents should be very proud of what we do.”
CO: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Crisp and its work?
AT: While COVID-19 exposed disconnects in the food supply chain, it also served as an overdue catalyst for rapid technology adoption. Food manufacturers, distributors, and retailers were forced to grapple with evolving consumer behaviors that—previously expected to occur over five years—changed within about five weeks. Faced with unprecedented demand, channel shifts and rapidly changing purchasing patterns, forward-looking brands and retailers have started to transform their business models to become highly responsive and agile.
Consumers increasingly demand greater choice, control, personalization, and transparency, and companies must continuously create, track, and manage a 360-degree view of customers’ shopping journeys to stay ahead of these trends. Fortunately, real-time data and analytical capabilities are available to supply the critical information brands and retailers need to implement a programmatic commerce approach, such as the one facilitated by Crisp.
CO: What is next for you and for Crisp?
AT: We’re going to keep up the momentum building partnerships and forming connections across the data landscape. Just this week, we announced an endorsement from United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) as the chosen platform to help their network of supplier partners access real-time sales and supply chain data. Partnerships like these help us build connections across distributors, brands, and retailers, which creates a network effect.
We’re also continually enhancing the value of the insights we provide and expanding how data can be applied across retail functions. Currently, we’re working on helping brands better tie real-time sales and inventory data into their marketing programs, bridging a data gap that has existed for a long time in retail marketing and advertising. We’ll continue not only expanding, but also providing deeper insights and finding ways to take data further.
To learn more about Crisp, visit their website at gocrisp.com.
This article originally appeared in the July 9, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.