Scottish tech start-up, 443 AI Ltd, has secured seed investment from a fast-growing food and drink wholesale firm to pioneer disruptive online technology in a sector considered to be still struggling with basic e-commerce.
In a month where yet another stalwart of the UK High Street struggles to survive in the face of the rising challenge of e-commerce, and one of the UK’s longest-established wholesale operations ditches the cash and carry side of its business, forward-thinking food and drinks wholesaler, Savona Foodservice, announces a pioneering investment in 443 AI.
443 AI has been started by Jason Finch, founder of one of Europe’s early web development and internet consultancy firms, over 20 years ago.
Also launching the world’s first major wholesale e-commerce operation with pharmaceuticals giant, UniChem (now Alliance Healthcare), in the 1990s, Finch has more recently worked with the UK’s largest delivered wholesaler, Palmer and Harvey, where his former firm’s software processed over £650 million of orders per annum.
Having last year showcased a prototype AI-based product search, advertising and e-commerce platform to Savona, designed and developed from scratch specifically to meet the unique challenges of wholesale, Finch and Savona have now joined forces to build the future of web-based technologies for wholesalers and distribution companies, starting with the food and drink sector.
Mike Morgan, director and general manager of Savona, will join Finch on the board of 443 AI, which is already recruiting top talent to start the design and build of an initial e-commerce platform, machine learning search engine focused on wholesale, and personalised marketing opportunities for suppliers to foodservice wholesale customers which include hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes as well as care homes and the education sector.
“Foodservice wholesale is actually very complicated and very different to retail, yet a lot of wholesalers are approaching e-commerce by building on top of platforms designed for retail. But wholesale is about selling large volumes and a few seconds extra adding each item to your order adds huge amounts of time to the overall ordering process,” explained Morgan.
“Orders often have hundreds of items built up over days not minutes, bespoke pricing for each customer, promotions packages far more complex than retailers operate, there are large cases of single items and split cases, in food and drink there are delivery cut-off times that vary depending on the temperature of products, and brand substitutions that all add to the complexity.”
Said Finch: “Wholesalers who have grasped the thorny issue of e-commerce are still seeing fairly basic platforms as innovative, despite the fact they’re at least a decade behind in the grander scheme of things. There is so much opportunity in this sector but the margins are wafer-thin so investment in new ordering channels is simply not happening, but wholesalers are starting to wake up to the fact new competitors, including Amazon, are emerging.”
443 AI is solving the problems for all wholesalers who want to have a viable, meaningful digital relationship with their customers, and Savona Foodservice is demonstrating its leadership by taking a significant shareholding in 443 AI and an active role in the development of the launch products, pooling the knowledge, experience and expertise to ensure the e-commerce platform and related technology products will be simply market-leading.
Finch recognises the importance of building the right platform with a company that shares his vision: “Savona get it. In the last decade I’ve come across no other wholesaler that has impressed me so much with its thoughts on innovating in the e-commerce space.
“All the people there know what their customers need and they know how to express that,” and he seems sure that the outcome of that can only be an industry leading e-commerce platform that serves customers as it should but does not add unnecessary administrative burden to the wholesaler.
“It’s easy for companies to talk the talk, but Savona has invested in the future of their industry, and 443 AI’s approach will be disruptive rather than simply creating standard e-commerce websites with a wholesale angle.”
“I’m excited about the journey we have started with Jason,” explains Kelly Williams, group sales and marketing director of Savona, “and seeing what I have already seen, tells me that we could not be in better hands. Jason is already approaching a broad range of our suppliers and customers to ensure that 443 AI creates a platform that improves not only the speed and efficiency of ordering but also makes it easy for customers to see the new products and promotions offered by our suppliers.”
Well-funded, and with a short roadmap before the launch of the initial version of the e-commerce platform, 443 AI is set to completely disrupt the food and drink sector’s e-commerce market, and Savona Foodservice will lead the charge within their customer base.
Finch concluded: “443 AI understands the importance of ongoing customer research and feedback, of creating modern mobile-responsive highly usable web software, and Savona’s board are all positive and understand there is a lot we can learn from the big boys of web technology and the leaders of retail e-commerce. Together, we can transform digital trading for wholesalers and improve the sales process through cutting-edge personalisation and machine-learning technology.”
Mike Morgan (director and general manager, Savona)
Mike has around 20 years’ operational and general management foodservice experience, encompassing wholesale giants Bidvest and Brakes, and world-class distribution companies Martin Brower and Weddel Swift. Prior to joining the board of Savona, where Mike is responsible for the entire Oxford operation, delivering right across the south of England, his most notable previous leadership role was during the contract for the supply of food to the 2012 Olympic Games for 3663. Despite having a wife and two children, he still finds time to shoot clay pigeons and travel.
Kelly Williams (group sales and marketing director, Savona)
Kelly has worked for most of her successful sales career in the wholesale foodservice industry, and most of that for Ilfracombe Wholesale Grocers before the acquisition by Savona Foodservice. Having worked from telesales through field sales and into sales management, she was appointed a company director and then took group sales and marketing responsibility. Travel, family and dogs all play a huge part in her life outside work.
Jason Finch (CEO, 443 AI)
Helicopter pilot, snowboarder and obsessed with Artificial Intelligence since graduating with a degree in AI-based Computer Science in 1994, Jason says he hates technology but is a serial tech entrepreneur, wrote regular tech business features for Better Wholesaling magazine and developed most of the code for wholesaler, P&H’s, first e-commerce platform. He is now an official mentor to the Women in Wholesale organisation and has helped many High Street retailers and brands as diverse as Apple Education, Lotus Cars, English National Ballet and Toshiba Europe to get online.