Forward Food Tech Podcast

#1 - Ian Wheal: How Data is Transforming Live-Stock Supply Chains

December 14, 2020 Forward Food Tech Season 1 Episode 1
Forward Food Tech Podcast
#1 - Ian Wheal: How Data is Transforming Live-Stock Supply Chains
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we're speaking to Ian Wheal - CEO of Breedr. Breedr is a live-stock supply chain technology looking to digitise existing live-stock supply chains. 

The big picture is that farmers are being asked to collect data for the supply chain, and do reporting for various organisations but there isn't a lot out there to actually help these farmers become more productive, sustainable and grow their business using that same data. 

In the heart of what Breedr are doing is to help farmers market their cattle through better data and build supply chains that they can enhance through genetics, animal welfare and more. 

Iliyana Dimitrova:

Hi, welcome to the Forward Food Tech podcast, where we explore the future of food and agriculture, with the people who are taking us there. In this episode, your host, Rob ward is speaking to Ian Wheal, CEO of Breedr. Breedr is a livestock supply chain technology looking to digitize existing livestock supply chains. The big picture is that farmers are being asked to collect data for the supply chain and do reporting for various organizations, but there isn't a lot our there to actually help these farmers become more productive, sustainable, and grow their businesses using that same data. In the heart of what Breedr are doing is to help farmers market that cattle through better data and build supply chains that they can enhance through genetics, animal welfare, and more. Without further ado, here's the conversation between Rob and Ian.

Rob Ward:

Ian, welcome to our first video interview for an ag tech business, as part of the Leadership Hub that we a re, w e've been running now for a number of months. And I'm really interested t oday to hear about your business and some key insights you've had, first of all, tell us your full name and your company a nd what d o you do?

Ian Wheal:

Yeah. Firstly, Rob, thanks for having me. And it's been great to be part of the leadership hub over the last few months. So Ian Wheal, I'm the founder of Breedr. Breedr is a livestock supply chain technology , looking to digitize the existing livestock supply chains. So I grew up in Australia on a farm there. Met a girl, moved over here (UK) and I've been here now for 11 years and really focused on helping British agriculture become more productive.

Rob Ward:

There's a lot going around the world on ag tech and it's interesting that you're here. I'm going to guess part because you married an English girl, but , from an ag-tech perspective , developing a business here, what, what has been helpful here regarding infrastructure or , grants or, investors? What are the things that are really making this place a good place to be for an ag-tech early stage business?

Ian Wheal:

Well, it's interesting because when we were founding Breedr, we actually did consider moving to Australia and we'd been living in America for a while as well. So we did look at the options for setting it up, but what one of the things that we really liked about the UK is that the consumer is actually quite close to the farmer. So the supply chains themselves reasonably compress the quite close, and there's also a great level of infrastructure. And I think we saw an opportunity in what pharmacy i s regulatory to actually see as something that could be productivity benefits a nd existing data capture, to be able to really help farmers be more productive. So, you know, it was something we definitely went through, but y ou k now, that was one side of it. Like the supply chain. I think the other side is, you know, the investment potential here. People aren't looking to potentials around ag tech now , and between sort of, Europe and America is where the core of a lot of that investment is happening. And I think those hubs that are building up around ag-tech y ou know, incredibly valuable when you're starting like some of the best farmers and e a rly stage people came through working with ea rly s t age a ccelerators or ag ritech g roups to be able to sort of learn an d m ake mistakes, you know, go t hrough the trough of despair before we came out the other side , f rom learning those things. So, you know, very, very important. And we f ound UK and a certain percentage of definitely of British fo unders t o be really innovative entrepreneurial and sort of wanting to engage in what the future of agriculture is.

Rob Ward:

So tell us a bit more about Breedr and the inspiration for the idea as a founder and what really is, what makes it different and why it's likely to be the big thing i n a nimal farming.

Ian Wheal:

I think ideas come from some level of frustration. So, you know, I think having grown up on a farm, but then done a feminine supply chain, you know, I saw a lot of red tape that farmers have been asked to do, and, you know, that was collecting data for the supply chain that was, you know, reporting on stuff for Defra or communities are out there, but there wasn't a lot of that then t hey u se to actually help those farmers become more productive and, you know, helping using that data. So it was always the question of w hat farmers, people are trying to sell my data, but the reality is that d ata i s incredibly valuable for the farmer a nd h elps him prove out that he's delivering a good product. It helps h im gain productivity and it helps him go to his customers and say, look, I'm consistently delivering a product that you want. And therefore, you know, let's build a l onger-term partnership. And I think it was, y ou k now, the original frustration was around E id, a lot of people at Eid's and the h ears of cattle t hat they were not getting the full value out of that. And it wasn't being used to really track productivity in the supply chain when that was a huge opportunity. So I think what makes us different is certainly at the heart of what we're trying to do is not just be a software platform that we c harged farmers. We're trying to help farmers become more productive. We're trying to help farmers market their cattle through better data. We're trying to help farmers build supply chains that they can run and enhance and get more productive on the back of that through improving genetics o r welfare or whatever it is s erving, you know, the heart of what we're trying to do is that , so we're not a farm management system. Although we have that, we really are a supply chain t ool b uilt for farmers and then we w in when they w in. So we have a financing arm that based on the f armer's data, we can offer them financing to be more productive and to grow their businesses. And so therefore, you know, we make money out of that, but we m ake money through helping a farmer grow his business. And I think that's what makes Breedr different is that sort of the ability to really drive fa rm a s businesses, just be a cost on their bottom line for software.

Rob Ward:

On your , when one of the concessionary had you identified , the amount of waste or inefficiencies that mounted to a massive saving in area usage. Just talk that one through cause it's just mindblowing .

Ian Wheal:

Yeah , no , I think what we're seeing and you know , this is a problem for the whole supply chain, is that at the moment the animals you know, there's a huge variance of when animals are s laughtered and t here's also a huge variance of the specification that they're delivered in and that variance is not good for the consumer. That variance often means that people are growing animals for longer than they should because they've had poor welfare , a ctually the highest growth animals and the best performing and most profitable animals and the least environmental impact comes from animals wi th r eally high welfare who have had a really happy life and have grown really well through their whole lives. And, you know, I think what we've led to at the moment when we start to look at the data that comes out of Breedr is there's number of animals, either through bad genetic choices or bad feedback that they've got fr om up and down the supply chain, bec ause th ey don't know they're breeding for eas y ca rving, but that doesn't make it a productive animal in the meat supply chain. And what we're saying is that, you know, we on Breedr, our farmers are selling their animals five months earlier than what would be otherwise sold that and sti ll gett ing exa ctly the same yield. So you can eff ectively take that five months and replace that with other animals are growing really well and really happily and, you know, the productivity gain and the ability to turn over and everything else it's hug e. And, you kno w , it leads to around it. Yo u know, if everyone in the UK was doing what people in B re edr are doing, then you can reduce your land use significantly, or you can reduce your feed input significantly and still produce more beef.

Rob Ward:

It seems to be a common thread within the ag tech innovations that we're seeing in lots of different places. And we cover off all over the world. Different ideas that we get to meet is that in an industry that doesn't feel like there's waste and waste is an emotive word, but there is actually once we start to get really clever about the digital technology that sits around that, we can identify waste at the benefit of the farm and putting profit onto the farm, selling a product to the farming industry, what are the key points of resistance that you've had and how you , how have overcome that?

Ian Wheal:

Yeah. So it's, I mean, there's always skepticism, especially with new technology. I'd have to say like, especially when you're doing something as differently as what we're doing, but I think , the key points of resistance we've had is you know, it is around the data. So, you know, we're helping a farmer collect their data and our terms and conditions say that that data is the f armer's data until they share it. Or if they sell the animal, they sell the animal with a service history. So the same as you would sell a car, you sell the car with the previous service history, we would sell an animal we've what medications h as had and what w hites has had, a nd, b ut not confidential information or process like that t hing. S o I think the core thing we've had challenges around the data. And I think trying to show farmers how that data is valuable to them and how it can help them prove out their profitability. And that i t is that data at the end of the day, like they are the owner of that data, but by just h oarding it and not doing anything with it is not helping them grow their business and i t's not helping them become more profitable. S o I think that's been one of the things we've come up w i th , I ' ll c ome up against something. How ha ve w e broken down those walls? Well, we've had, yo u k n ow, farmers sell to farmers and f a rmers rec ommend pr o mise. S o we've had a really good core group of farmers that have helped build video case studies, build case studies to the broader farming network. And so that's been huge. The other one is by imp roving th e bottom line. So, you kn o w, w e've helped those farmers achieve better prices for their animals. We've helped them deliver animals in specification and at the end of the day, they're making more money and, you know, that's how you break down those barriers and sort of deliver on what you say you're goi ng to de liver.

Rob Ward:

I think that's fantastic. I love your straight talking. That's, it's infectious. I hope for the rest of the industry and it's good to hear. So when it comes to working with , that data and how that integrates with other forms of data around the total farm, do you have any thoughts on that in, because the parallel we often talk about at Forward Food Tech is about the FinTech industry and how data integration with other businesses that collect data has been their success. And I'm just interested to know how you, I think y ou're on data beyond the ownership of it. And the aggragation of it i s, i s more of a subject around integration of other people's data with other data. And i f you've got any, anything on that?

Ian Wheal:

Well , I think we've been very specific. They get either helps the farmer directly , so the data integrations we do or we'll help the date, the farmer communicate better to his customer. So those are the two sides of data that we believe we need. So if you speak to a supermarket, all supermarkets nowadays want to know the antibiotic usage across their supply chain, because it's a , it's a big measure of welfare. And so if we can aggregate data from medicine hubs into Breedr or Breedr into other medicine hubs that helps that p harma prove it out. It's the farmer's health records, but it helps him then articulate to his customer, being the retail contract that he's got, what his welfare standards are. So I think we do make sure that those are two big ones. We're not in a company where we then want to aggregate w hen FinTech, you've seen a n ber of people taking that data and then repackaging and selling it out the back, y ou k now, and that becomes a profit line, sort of a little unknown to the, to the user. We do see farming as something that's built much more on trust and handshakes and, you know, the expectation is that you go by your word and I think that's where agriculture does differ in some of that stuff. So you just, we're very conscious of that.

Rob Ward:

Yeah . It's interesting. So good to hear about the supermarket connection, obviously , we're very passionate about that because our lives have been from production to consumption and back again, and as a business. And , really like to hear how you managed to get a major supermarkets involved and get them interested in what you're doing.

Ian Wheal:

Retail is involved as being , you know, actually probably a lot simpler than you would've thought. And that is because the challenge on the farm around growth rates and consistent product delivery and delivering something that the consumer w ants is what is all those inefficiencies are currently driving. And if you take the farm, t hough, when you roll t hat up to the retailer, you know, you go from 200 animals to 50,000 animals, it's even more pronounced in terms of the inconsistency of supply. And so from a retail level, they want to deliver a product that a consumer comes back and buys every week because meat is a high value product and s teak, especially as a high value product, and drives other purchases. So, you know, from our perspective, t he supply chains are changing, people are wanting to have visibility of what's in their supply chain, and t hey're wanting to have predictability about what's in that supply chain as well, because that enables people to plan. It enables us to deliver a better product to cons ers. And a t the end of the day, it helps the p rocessor , deliver a premium produce into that supermarket, but it also helps the whole industry grow and deliver a better product for consumers. And I think that's where I would. And that's one of the reasons we decided to work w ith i n the UK initially, because we really do see there is good alignment between processes and retailers and the farmer trying to move in that direction.

Rob Ward:

Yeah. It's one of the highest concentrated retail markets in the world the UK and a very advanced one , it's certainly the biggest online , consumer market as a p ercentage o f population. So, so that, that gives t hat, t hat integration i s key. Isn't it? I'm just, so here's a moonshot now. We've got a number of key events happening in the world economy, we've got a new president in the U S and , a n d w e've got trade deals that are going to be discussed with a l l around the world for the UK. Wh ere, where do you see the impact on different types of meats that are be ing r eared around the world and, and how the distinctions ha ppened b etween that and, and wh ere d o , where does Breedr fit in that story? And this is from an international perspective.

Ian Wheal:

So it's interesting, Like I'll t ake it back to our family farm. We have a swine pigs , cattle and sheep on our farm in Australia. And what we're saying is that, you know, Breedr itself has started it s f ocus on the beef industry because it's a big industry. It's the one with some of the biggest challenges around the environment and everything else , t h at h a ve b e en p ortrayed in the media or a t least, I mean, not that the other ones don't. I think what we are sa ying i s a huge amount of demand for animal protein coming out of Asia, a nd that demand is having huge impacts on global supply chains. So you've seen growth in exports from Argentina and Brazil sk yrocket in the last few years, which, because cheap protein is still very high on the agenda of the global market, y o u've seen semi decline in places like Europe, where production is sort of kep t do w n, b ut even COVID has no w swung tha t ba ck the other way. We've actually seen 16% growth in the last quarter on lamb and UK consumption, w e 've seen beef consumption going up by 8%. S o if you take sort of the global market dynamics with Asia, which is driving protein demand, you actually now take the COVID 'I'm cooking at home', or th ere's been a big sw itch towards meat consumption again yet, you know, the population's growing. We need to be able to address that need to the consumer. We need to be able to do the m mo re efficiently, b e cause you kn o w, e ven if you take alternative proteins that are coming through and you know, you , y ou look at al l of the fake meats or whatever you want to c al l them that are coming through. You look at the demand over the next 40 years. If they don't exist, there's not enough land. So we need those sort of tools to exist in parallel from a protein market perspective, to be able to deliver one the efficiency in t he core ani mal protein market, as well as be able to deliver the glob al dem and for protein that's coming through. So, you kno w , I think I'm not a big advocate of, you kno w , on e versus the other all hav e their place and we're still seeing growth. And the growth dynamics are changing and export for the UK is going to become more relevant in a post-Brexit world as well, which is another big dynamic that 's hap pening , a t the moment. So, you know, I think we will need to aim to deliver the best possible prod uct we can as efficiently with the highest welfare standards, with the least environmental impact. And I think those goals exis t no matter where you are in the world. And , b ut one thing's for sure, consumer dema nd isn 't dropping and it's goin g to k ee p going. So how do we engage with the industry to be able to deliver that in the best possible way.

Rob Ward:

And will this identify different types of production for , livestock of the same type of meat, let's say beef and different , carbon footprints that sit around that and any sort of branding that would support that product. if it's, you know, one from one area of the world to another, is this something you are going to be part of?

Ian Wheal:

Yeah, we're already doing stuff in the UK, which is grass fed supply chains versus specific breeds supply chains. Like wagyu , and each of those have their own dynamic that they have to go with it. And you know, that is part of what the consumer experience wants. They want to know where that came from, how it was delivered, you know, we were approached the other day about doing a ntibiotic free detection. So you can detect each animal. That's had antibiotics through the supply chain and actually deliver an antibiotic, even in amongst where you have to treat animals with antibiotics because it's bad welfare not to , but high antibiotic use is a different thing. So how do you actually build antibiotic free supply chains that come out of it? So, yo u k n ow, I think the opportunity to be able to tailor to different users when you've got the data that tracks that and therefore get price premi s where appropriate is exciting with what technology can deliver.

Rob Ward:

I think it's an interesting space because end of the day, you know, COVID is also critical, a lot of very poor people in the world , and actually often some of the most developed the poorest people are, are in the developed countries. So we've got to have affordable food at the same time if somebody had to pay more for something because they want a welfare level that, that they believe in, then that distinction is important. I guess the consumer challenge here is that is how honest is that and where the industry has gone wrong is that lack of integrity , and misleading labeling at least if not in some case fraudulent. So what consumer market desperately wants is that integrity right the way through, that is that is not , just veneer and just marketing wash, it's the honest situation.

Ian Wheal:

Yeah. And, you know, that's where being able to, you know , work being farmers at the heart of everything we do is very important because at the end of the day, if that farmer feels attached to what they're delivering, they put more onus and emphasis on doing a really good job for that consumer. That's where Breedr has a strong point. And that's where we want to work with processes. And retailers is to be at the heart of helping the farmer be more successful because of the more successful t hey are, the more they feel they're delivering great product into those customers. And then onto the consumer, the better the data matters f or the integrity of the actual producer matters even more. I t'd be what I'd say.

Rob Ward:

That's brilliant. So what's your targets as a business? I don't mean revealing anything confidential, but something, what are your body, your business targets the next six months? What's the , where do you I know we c ould talk about a moonshot l ine i n the next slide years, but actually r ealistically, what the next six months, what are your key things you're focusing on, including raising, if you are still today and who a re you looking to work with if you are?

Ian Wheal:

Yeah. So for us really, it's, you know, it's continuing to grow in a , quite a strong position now in the UK market. And continuing to grow that market is really at the heart of everything we're doing and, you know, expanding things like our financing products, to be able to make sure that we can help farmers grow and get more value out of Breedr. And, you know, that is the heart of everything we're doing in the next while, we will, we have started on cattle so, you know, for us opening up t he multi-species a nd, and b eing able to handle pork and l amb as well, that goes along, will be important. So we've already, that work's pretty much there that that's been important. That, and then I think, you know, if you go towards the end of that six months, w e wi ll b e looking at, yo u k n ow, further funding to look at international expansion because th e, the livestock industry is global, and there is , there is opportunities globally to be able to address a more digital supply chain. And they are very, it is still a very manual supply chain in the world over with lots of data silos, lots of lack of feedback and I'd say th ere i s e nough out there for us to, ho w t o h elp a l o t o f f armers be more efficient, b ut at the same time deliver better environmental impact and, yo u k n ow, high welfare pr oduct.

Rob Ward:

That's fantastic. And the last six months nearly, and you've been part of the Forward Food Tech Leadership Hub , how did that work for you and what would you say to somebody who's thinking about joining that?

Ian Wheal:

Yeah, so I think what's been really exciting is it's been, you really tailored a very well to start ups at a similar sort of stage. And so a lot of the challenges that we're having , cause every business has challenges like in terms of growing and what we need to do , there's a great, really good group of people. And, you know, as well as learning from you , Rob , it's obviously been just as good to learn from all of the other founders that are on that group and, and how we can address the challenges we need today. Because you know, whether you are delivering strawberries into a retailer or you're delivering meat into a retailer and how you help communicate the benefits through them, to the cons er, you know , there's a lot of learnings that we have as an industry, as supply chains change and compress and all of that sort of thing that I think the Leadership Hub has been brrilliant for and, you know , I think there's a great, great group of people that we also have on that. And, you know, looking forward to the alumni as it starts to grow because that in itself is probably going to be the most valuable bit for it , for everyone that joins.

Rob Ward:

Thank you, Ian, well it has been , it's been an absolute pleasure meeting with you you, you talk straight, you deliver on efficiency while dealing with sustainability. You know, it's an exciting space that you've , you are working in and Breedr has got so much potential, b ut it's been an absolute pleasure working with you. And thank you so much, good luck to your team and look forward to staying in touch a nd being w ith y ou for the long term, take care.

Ian Wheal:

Looking forward to to. So thanks Rob and I really appreciate it.

Rob Ward:

Thanks, thanks, Ian.

Iliyana Dimitrova:

Thanks very much for listening and we hope you stay healthy in the midst of this global pandemic. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, give us a five star review and share the podcast with your friends and colleagues. For more information and takeaways from this episode, please visit forward food.tech . See you next time!