Against the Flow

While most companies focus on getting their product to consumers, Recall InfoLink does the opposite

Four years.

That’s how long Roger Hancock went without a paycheck. Not just an employer’s paycheck— any paycheck.

The sacrifice was worth it, he says. Without it, his company, Recall InfoLink, would still be just a dream instead of accelerating — after eight years of hard work — to become a global leader in product recalls.

Recall InfoLink’s software dramatically accelerates the time between a manufacturer announcing a product recall — say E. coli.-contaminated spinach — and the time distributors, retailers and consumers pull it from their shelves.

Fresh vegetables on ice

As important as the potentially life-saving work of moving this information through the supply chain is, its importance in the food industry has traditionally been foggy.

“The whole industry is focused on getting products out to consumers,” Roger explains. “When a recall occurs, there’s a reverse logistics industry geared towards product movement, but there was no market for information movement.”

In the complex world of food distribution, getting the right information to the right people in a short amount of time can save considerable time, money, and often, lives.

“The old way was to fax and make phone calls and consider your job done,” Roger says.

“But you actually had no idea whether or not you had done your job at all. You had no way of knowing whether the people who needed to get the message got the message.”

Roger should know. In his previous role as Director of Food Safety and QA for Albertsons, he helped create the modern recall industry.

“We built a food safety quality infrastructure to a level that hadn’t existed,” he explains. “We were at the top of the heap in terms of food safety and quality programs.”

Still, he didn’t think it was good enough. So in 2008, he left Albertsons and founded Recall InfoLink with the help of his 401(k) and, eventually, a dedicated investor.

“There was no market for a third-party recall process. We invented it.”

He was well positioned to take on the challenge. After graduating college he was brought to Idaho to run a pilot project funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control promoting a high fiber, low fat diet across the state. To achieve this he put together a coalition of 35 organizations. Eventually, one of the coalition members, Albertsons, recruited Roger to build their national food safety program.

He hopes Recall InfoLink will have an even larger impact.

“In my mind, I did a state thing. I did a national thing. Now let’s try global things,” Roger says. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Even though he expected a big challenge, neither he nor his supporters could foresee just how big.

“I expected it would be six to twelve months before I got a paycheck. Everybody expected it to cashflow with 12 months,” Roger says. “But the challenge was bigger than that.”

The challenge, he explains, is that while we think of the process of getting products to consumers as linear (producer to distributor to retail), the reality is it’s not.

“The supply chain is more like a supply web,” Roger explains.

“It is not just A to B. It’s also B to D and D to A. If A buys too much of something, then they may sell their excess to F or Z.”

In the case of recalls, tracking all this is difficult, which has traditionally meant that word of a recall doesn’t reach those who need it for days or even weeks. Roger is trying to cut that to hours or minutes.

“Our system has the processing power that nobody has,” he says.Fresh vegetables neatly organized at a grocery store

Getting others to recognize the power of his better mousetrap was difficult. For starters, because any given producer, grocery store or even grocery store chain might only process a limited number of recalls a year, they didn’t have systems established to handle them. Usually the job of managing such recall events falls to a general quality assurance department or even a sales person.

Because of this, many companies didn’t — and still don’t — have a specific person Roger could talk to about how they managed recalls. That person simply didn’t exist.

Recall InfoLink’s solution was to work closely with distributors, who, because of the breadth of customers they serve and products they manage, more frequently experience the pain of managing recalls.

This strategy, along with his work with industry trade groups establishing standards for managing recalls, is now paying off. Business doubled year-over-year in January, and Roger expects to hit at least those growth numbers in February and much of the rest of the year.

“We will be the industry standard for food retail, food service, pet pharmaceutical, produce, meat, deli and bakery,” Roger says. “It took a long time, but the industry is getting there.”

Grocery store oranges

It’s the classic story: after spending the better part of a decade grinding away on a problem that many said couldn’t be solved, Recall InfoLink is about to look like an overnight success.

“Lots of people look at me and say, ‘Hancock, you’re crazy,’” Roger says with a laugh.

“A lot of people thought I was crazy to leave the safety of a good job to pursue this. But this is important. This is big. This is going to improve people’s lives. It was the right thing.”

Photography by Mike Kerby of c308 Marketing.