If you haven’t heard about the Sage Project, this will definitely change the way you look at the food you eat. At the intersection of technology, design and food, The Sage Project is a new platform with the mission of simplifying food data. By partnering with some of our most beloved brands (Siggi’s! Kind! Talenti! Oh my!) to provide the most accurate data about their food products, we can eat with confidence knowing that their is transparency about what exactly is going in our body.
We had the pleasure of talking to Sam Slover, co-founder and CEO of the Sage Project, about how it all began and why he thought food data needed to be more accessible:
Tell us about how Sage Project started — where did the inspiration come from?
Just over 3 years ago, the Sage Project started as a Master’s thesis project at an NYU creative technology program. I’m really into food and while I find food data and the systems around food fascinating, I long have felt that I’ve lacked the tools to properly make sense of it in my daily life. Plus – while there’s so much interesting and important data around food, it rarely gets to consumers in a way that makes sense or can be acted upon.
So, as a firm believer in designing to solve your own problems first, I decided to track every food item I purchased from a grocery store over a number of months. I wanted to go deep into my own data to answer a bunch of different questions — like where is my food coming from, which ingredients do I tend to eat the most, which nutrients do I get enough of vs which ones I don’t really seem to ever get.
The interesting part is that most of the data I wanted was not readily available to me as a consumer, particularly the more interesting data points like the locations of where the product comes from, what additives where in the foods and why they were used, and other concerns.
And when the data was readily available — mainly in the form of the existing food label — I found it quite limited, superficial, and hard to process. Pulling out important points from the current label is actually really hard for most people. It’s never been designed to make it easy for regular people.
So I designed my own personal labeling system that helped me learn about my food. And it turned out that the project struck a chord with many others too: after launching, I received thousands of emails from people communicating their own frustrations with the current state of food data and the existing food label, and encouragement to build out a system that the world could use to better make sense of all this information. And so, we started building Sage Project as a collaboration between designers, technologists, and dietitians.
Tell us about your backgrounds—were you in nutrition? Or was this just a passion of yours?
My background is a creative technologist — a designer and programmer who’s really into nutrition and global food systems. I’m passionate about using design and technology to help regular people understand the data of these food systems and ultimately make better decisions.
The team is a collaboration between designers, technologists, and dietians — all passionate about creating a platform that makes food data more approachable and actionable.
What was the biggest challenge of starting Sage Project?
The biggest challenge has been compiling the depth of data that we have on each and every product. We not only show nutrition and ingredients, but we go further and unpack deeper information about the product: where it’s been sourced from, which diet types it fits with, which ingredients are additives and what do those ingredients mean, and more. We love this work though — it’s very important for us and we believe strongly this data should exist in the world in a way that consumers can access and make sense of it.
What was your biggest take away (in terms of nutrition) while creating the Sage Project?
So many takeaways, but probably the biggest is that different people look for different things when it comes to food and nutrition – we’re not all the same! For some people, highlighting nutritional data points like sodium, carbs, and added sugars is the key criteria when it comes to food, whereas for others, ingredients, additives or supply chain is much more important. It’s about giving the end user the agency to define what’s most important to them when it comes to food — and then letting the platform adapt to that use case (rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach).
How are you working with other experts in the realm of nutrition and wellness?
We work with experts in nutrition and wellness to help curate the platform around different use cases and goals — for example, we have experts help flag foods that fit with specific diets like Low FODMAP, WFPBNO (Whole Foods Plant Based No Oil), and Vegan Triathletes. While we can never cover every dietary use case ourselves, our community of experts helps curate the platform along these lines.
What’s next for Sage Project?
A big next “push” for us is helping to power nutrition and transparency in all sorts of physical locations — being the go-to source for nutrition in chains, stores, restaurants, and more.