Next from the creators of Niceland Seafood: DigiFresh and “The Seafood Counter of The Future”

Published on
May 7, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has upended the seafood industry worldwide. Reykjavik, Iceland-based Niceland Seafood’s chairman and co-founder, Oliver Luckett, sees an opportunity to transform that turmoil into a revolution.

Faced with an industry-wide pivot to retail sales and individual packaging due to the shutdown of the U.S. foodservice sector, Niceland Seafood’s founder, Oliver Luckett, along with fellow founding partner and company CEO, Heida Helgadottir, decided to advance previously-hatched plans to launch new consumer packaged goods, including frozen products. And they have gone further by spinning out a new services company called DigiFresh, which they said aims to advance the industry through a networked solution and transform the seafood supply chain and the seafood-buying experience.

The concept, called DigiFresh, has been shared with a handful of investors, with Luckett and Helgadottir seeking millions in seed funding. DigiFresh is being billed as an interdisciplinary approach to “connecting the dots” and modernizing the seafood industry by implementing end-to-end, full-chain traceability, dynamic consumer marketing, business intelligence, and packaging innovations. Luckett’s and Helgadottir’s pitch, seen by SeafoodSource, calls for technology providing full-chain traceability to be included in every shipment of seafood – tracking origin, temperature, and transportation data for producers, distributors, and consumers alike, and offering assurances of freshness and sustainability. DigiFresh’s offering includes concepts for a plug-and-play e-commerce marketplace, and a reimagination of an intelligent, self-service retail seafood counter, dubbed by Luckett as “The Seafood Counter of the Future.”

“We are at a very critical moment in the industry,” Luckett told SeafoodSource. “Our food system’s weaknesses are being exposed. Seafood industry executives are now taking one of two paths – [the first being] waiting until the storm blows over to try to return old ways of doing business. But we don’t think that’s going to happen – we don’t see life ever being like it was before the coronavirus, and we’re forging a second path, which is doubling down on innovation. This situation is providing us with a really powerful moment to make big changes to fix problems that have plagued the industry, and build a new level of trust with the consumer.”

Luckett said his thinking around the creation of DigiFresh originated with trying to figure out why Americans don’t eat more seafood. Americans consumed 16.1 pounds of seafood per capita in 2018 – less than most other coastal countries in the world.

“Americans eat very little seafood because decades of no transparency has damaged the relationship consumers have with the industry and its products,” Luckett said. “We need to rebuild that. The only way you do that is by adding compliance to the system that goes way beyond certification. That’s what needs to dramatically change in the industry. Certifications are amazing, but I don’t know what they mean to me as a consumer. Are they protecting me? Are they making me more confident? To me, this is what desperately needs to be addressed.”

Before founding Niceland in 2018, Luckett was the head of innovation at The Walt Disney Company and founder and chief executive officer of social media management company theAudience. That experience gave him a brain for systems organization and a belief in the revolutionary power of technology. Those qualities, along with his team’s status as “total outsiders and insurgents” to the business of seafood, gave him the impetus to push forward with DigiFresh, he said.

“Niceland celebrates our two-year anniversary in June, and we’ve now done USD 36 million [EUR 33.3 million] in revenue. I’m proud that, as an upstart group of people coming into the industry from different backgrounds, we’re using with the systems we built for Niceland Seafood and are now refining them for select partners that share the values of DigiFresh,” he said.

DigiFresh’s offering is a cloud-based platform that integrates with existing industry systems and new high-tech packaging, including a partnership with SimplyRFID, a company providing tracking hardware (with which DigiFresh has signed a five-year exclusive letter of intent). With DigiFresh, RFID or NFC tags will be woven into every tamper-proof package of seafood and will help track them as they move through the supply chain, all in accordance with GS1 standards. The tags will also provide thousands of temperature readings to ensure the seafood remains chilled or frozen. In addition to sending information to the producer and distributor, the tags will also carry information to the consumer: catch certificates, production reports, a guarantee that the product they are considering buying has been kept at a safe temperature, and cooking instructions and recipe suggestions. The information can be accessed via readers, smartphone apps, or simply any android or iOS phone camera with a scan of a barcode or QR code.

The network envisioned by Luckett, built-out and managed by DigiFresh, combines mainstream technologies already available and already in wide use by other industry sectors, Luckett said.

“We’re not inventing any of this technology, we’re just bringing it to seafood. One important thing we’ve learned at Niceland is that inventory and management systems at the edge of the seafood supply chain network are nonexistent. So, we built out a compliance management tool, through DigiFresh, we’re making that plug-and-play and we’ll offer it to partners we verify,” Luckett said “What we’re saying is, come use our system and collaborate with us, if we work together then all the boats will rise.”

Another major component of DigiFresh’s offering is the creation of turn-key marketing data and tools.

“DigiFresh is designed to help companies like Niceland and our retail partners improve the experience of shopping for seafood and directly connect with shoppers to increase trust and sales,” According to Danielle Davis, Niceland’s director of marketing and partnerships. “In the current system, there are so many barriers creating disconnects between brand and shopper, and so retrofitting the supply chain is simply not enough to fix that problem – we have to create communication and education solutions at the shopper level. Besides offering reams of data to help understand and predict customer behavior, the DigiFresh system can help attract consumers who have previously been scared off from seafood or whose seafood interests are limited, and help people discover and buy more fish.”

Key to this effort is a complete re-envisioning of the retail seafood counter, a design DigiFresh has dubbed “The Seafood Counter of the Future.”

“The way it works now, seafood brands like Niceland are not able to control the experience or easily educate shoppers at fresh counters,” Davis said. “Sometimes our retail partners come to us asking for help with this challenge, so our team at Niceland is excited about DigiFresh because it’s an opportunity to create a design that allows us to be consistent with marketing and build brand awareness.”

The design includes a large-screen television featuring seafood-related content, a secondary LCD display where customers can scan products and learn about them, more on-trend packaging equipped with RFID- and NFC-enabled technology and food safety seals, and sensors to provide alerts when cases need to be refilled.

“We do want to be the disruptor and think of how we can do things better,” Davis said. “It feels like we have all the tools we need to improve the shopping experience online and at retail so that we’re offering products and experiences shoppers need. We’re challenging ourselves to take a bit more ownership of that at Niceland.”

DigiFresh’s rethinking of the customer experience may extend to e-commerce, as it plans to launch its own online marketplace soon. Luckett said his goal is to create “the best online store for seafood in existence.”

“With the coronavirus situation, everyone is doing their own ad hoc Shopify site. We want to create something that gives you e-commerce, traceability, consumer product feedback, back-end support, and everything necessary in terms of compliance that allows you to sell online, at a cost that’s probably less than hiring your cousin to do your next marketing plan,” Luckett said.

For Helgadottir, DigiFresh is emerging from Niceland thinking hard on the question of what the future of seafood should look like.

“DigiFresh is taking this on, and there’s news to come for Niceland, too, as we fast-track product innovation to bring more offerings directly to home cooks,” Helgadottir said. “I’m a big believer in trying to learn and improve from what happens when our lives and ways of operating are forced to change. And I think Niceland and DigiFresh are perfect examples of that.”

Image courtesy of DigiFresh

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