Q&A with Thomas Cooper, Founder of Pantri

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Next up in our Startup Showcase Q&A series is Thomas Cooper, founder of Pantri. His startup aims to optimize grocery replenishment services in your home by connecting your smart appliances to online grocery retailers. 

Read on to learn more about how Pantri is working to solve the trickiest problems in the grocery replenishment space, their DIY Amazon Dash-like button, and their plan to avoid startup death traps. 

And if you want to meet the Pantri team in person and see their tech live in action, register for SKS Europe in Dublin on June 11-12th!

This Q&A was edited for clarity and length. 

Q: First thing’s first: give us your 15-second elevator pitch.
A: We’re yet another one of those new smart kitchen hub wannabes! We want to take data from smart appliances that can track grocery usage and turn it into automatic replenishment orders with online grocery retailers. The advantage being that appliance manufacturers can focus on building fantastic devices and grocery retailers can concentrate on delivering food at great prices, while we concentrate on connecting them together via our common agnostic API platform.

 

Q: What inspired you to start Pantri?
A: I first dreamt up the idea when stacking shelves at a retailer as a teenager. I thought it rather novel how stock was booked in the warehouse, scanned out the tills and then re-ordered automatically to keep a set stock level using a computer ledger. Of course, my boyish dreaming quickly passed when I realised that no one is going to manually add and scan out all of their shopping.

Then, a few years ago - having long forgotten about the idea - I purchased a copy of Wired Magazine. It had a smart home supplement in it, showing off early iterations of various connected kitchen devices.  I could instantly see how these machines could start automatically scanning groceries.

Paired with the UK grocery delivery network (which has the highest market penetration on the planet), I realised that grocery items could soon be replenished automatically.  Not wanting to pass up the opportunity, I started work on Pantri to take data from these devices and use it to provide automatic grocery replenishment.

 

Q: What’s the most challenging part of getting a food tech startup off the ground?
A: Within the grocery replenishment space it's dealing with all the different API’s. Here's why:

For the food tech community as a whole - If you are a startup appliance or smart kitchen device manufacturer - you want to invest all of your time and effort into your device hardware. You then need to build some form of bespoke backend and user interface such as a smartphone app or website powered by servers running databases and API’s. This second part isn’t beyond the wit of man, but it is a lot more extra work.

At this point, your device is still useless from a grocery replenishment point of view.  So you now need to talk with the world’s online grocery retailers.

You find that one or two are accommodating, but technologically completely different & each one requires different software. Then you need to handle all of the patches and updates - before you’ve even sold your first product. 

Bringing the question back to Pantri - we are trying to solve this challenge by figuring the connections out once and then maintaining them so retailers and manufacturers only have to worry about our single endpoint. Pantri should provide manufacturers and users with an enhanced utility that enables automatic grocery replenishment to take place with minimal barriers.

 

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Q: How will Pantri change the day-to-day life of its users?
A: We’re never going to wholly automate grocery replenishment - and I think most users would find this undesirable. But what we can do is replenish 80% of your weekly shop basics, such as loo roll or soap or potatoes. 

Then you might decide to walk to your local market on a sunny Saturday morning, visit a deli & pick up an artisanal loaf of bread from your independent baker.  This is the type of purchase you'll enjoy - rather than the monotony placing the same old supermarket loaf in the trolley next to your dishwasher tablets.

Where Pantri can specifically add increased utility is to give users an agnostic platform.  A concern that many consumers are likely to have with the smart kitchen is that their $2,000 smart fridge, which they expect to last for the next decade, interacts with a single proprietary retailer. By purchasing a device that connects to Pantri, they know that if they want to change retailers, they don’t have to change their fridge, cooker, coffee machine & dishwasher too.

 

Q: What sort of kitchen appliances does Pantri pair with (so far)?
A:  We’re having conversations with various multinational appliance manufacturers to connect their appliances into the service.  

We’ve also built a little self-assembly button called “A Bit Pushy” which users are comparing to Amazon's Dash Button.  Except ours is a maker kit (so you need a soldering iron) which we’re branding under M Appliances. All the designs & code are open source.  It's meant to act as an inspiration to the maker community (electronics hobbyists) to encourage them to start making their own devices and connect to the Pantri API.  We’ve got some other example maker devices that we’re going to release under this brand over the coming year.

There's also our more consumer-focused concept Shenzhen Coffee Co. It's a sister brand that we’ve created to be run as a separate company. We plan on partnering with a China-based coffee pod machine manufacturer to build a device that accurately tracks a range of pods. The purpose of this is to show how easy it is for people to make their own smart appliance startups with Pantri.

We’re really excited about the potential in the maker community; after all, it took Tesla to show the auto industry how to do electric autonomous vehicles, and it was Yahoo & Google - not the Yellow Pages - that catalogued the web.  So whilst I don’t believe that the existing appliance manufacturers will go out of business, some of them will probably have a lesson taught to them by a garden shed startup.

We also have API access to several other national grocery retailers across various territories. One in particular is UK grocery store Tesco; they're very switched on about the potential new shopping iterations and provide great support to people like us. 

At the same time, we’re looking at how smaller retailers can setup say a Shopify store so that we can send orders directly to them.  We’re just finishing off a Marketplace app that makes selling items on Pantri as easy as selling on eBay. We’re already working with the first group of small retailers (some of which sell non-perishable grocery items already on eBay) and we’ll have them launched on the platform by mid-summer.

In fact, we’re operating two demo retailers ourselves. We’ve literally gone to our local wholesaler, opened up an account & will be shortly posting the orders from carrotdepot.com and tedspetfood.com (named after the office dogs) to UK customers for next day delivery.  Its a great proof of concept and an opportunity to discover and resolve issues firsthand. 

 

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Q: When do you plan to launch Pantri to the consumer market?
A: When its ready.  As we’ve seen with the current smart kitchen devices, the majority of them are cool - but not 100% just yet.

We’re initially looking to allow a few people in who can give us feedback to help us make Pantri really work, both for us and for them.  The maker movement is one such place, appliance manufacturers research labs and test networks are another. We’re also providing alpha & later beta access to vetted early adopters to try things out from a consumer perspective.

Maybe in 3 years time, you buy your new fridge & it has Pantri quietly built in.  When you start to use it, it will be as impactful as an Apple iPhone was in 2007.

Thanks for speaking with us, Thomas! If you want to see Pantri pitch their product at our Startup Showcase in Dublin this June, register here