Every Brand. Everywhere.

Nearly 25 years before Instacart was hatched and a decade prior to WebVan’s fall from grace, two brothers pondered a question. They wondered why a trip to the grocery store was required each and every time they needed food. The personal computer had arrived and the Internet era was on the verge; the brothers sensed they were on the cusp of a dramatic shift in the way in which consumer services were delivered. So, in 1989, Andrew and Thomas Parkinson founded local grocery delivery service Peapod in Evanston, IL. Twenty-three million orders later, the question they once pondered has been answered.

But, this isn’t the story of Peapod. Rather, it’s an account of what Andrew and Thomas developed inside Peapod after its IPO in 1997 and subsequent acquisition in 2001 by Royal Ahold. This is the story of ItemMaster.

As one of the first eTailers for CPG, Peapod was regularly looking for better ways to empower customers to transition away from a historically physical shopping experience, where you can touch, smell, and even taste product, to a digital one. One of those ways was to provide consistent imagery of and comprehensive data on each of their products online. But, the Peapod team quickly ran into the limitations of incumbent product content capture firms as these organizations were largely focused on serving the circulars market given the nascence of e-grocery. The result was a sub-par user experience wherein consumers were forced to interact with patched and uneven product image inventory and were left in the dark on questions like “Is this product gluten-free?” as granular data attributes were often left unaccounted for by legacy providers. Andrew and Thomas were so frustrated by the lack of optionality that they decided to build a product content capture operation themselves within the walls of Peapod.

Six years and thousands of captured products later, the team surveyed the content management and brand activation market and found vendors were still under-serving brands and retailers alike. Image and data capture in CPG remained un-standardized—even top manufacturers lacked uniformity as individual brand teams adhered to different specifications—and vendors were struggling to adapt to the evolving preferences of their customers given their legacy, institutionalized focus on a medium (print) falling quickly out of favor. Concurrently, CPG’s digital landscape had continued its extraordinary growth as more and more SKUs made their way to the web. The status quo for brands and retailers in regards to the dearth of product image/data consistency and transparency was only set to deteriorate. Recognizing the opportunity at hand, the Parkinsons negotiated the spin-out of the newly-minted ItemMaster platform, released the first open product content exchange to manufacturers and retailers, enabling brands to better control their digital shelf and retailers to access certified brand content purpose-built for distribution across any digital medium, and hired Michael Murray, former Chief Product Officer at Catalina Marketing, as President & CEO.

Today, ItemMaster has 80,000+ products in its digital library and works with thousands of brands and retailers. The team has constructed an optimized product ingest and image/data capture operation to increase those numbers dramatically in the months and years ahead and, as ItemMaster fills their data pool, this library of content will be used more dynamically to enable brands and retailers to expand their media and retail market presences with consistent, standardized digital assets. Given that the Midwest is home to some of the world’s largest brands and retailers, it’s no surprise that the company enabling these organizations to meet the challenges of a more digital future is based right here in Chicago.

After leading ItemMaster’s seed round in early 2016, we are happy to announce our participation in ItemMaster’s $7.5M Series A round alongside David Nevas and Edison Partners—a firm with which we’ve worked closely in the past and know will serve as great partners to the ItemMaster team.

Peter Christman

Posted On

November 22, 2016


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