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National Restaurant Association - Spokin CEO helps food allergy customers speak up

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Spokin CEO helps food allergy customers speak up

Every year in March, America celebrates Women’s History Month, which recognizes some of our country’s most influential female leaders and innovators.

In the food industry, many women have impacted and changed the landscape, and those changes continue today. Susie Hultquist, creator of the Spokin app, is making it easier for food allergy sufferers to dine out. Here is her story.

For Susie Hultquist, necessity turned out to be the mother of invention.

When her daughter was diagnosed with food allergies, Hultquist, an ex-finance executive in Chicago, took action to make her child’s life easier. The result: Spokin, an app connecting food allergy sufferers and their family members to businesses catering to their dietary needs.

Spokin, which debuted last year, offers resources, including customized news feeds, like city guides and restaurant recommendations that match people’s allergies, interests and locations. The content also offers information on food products, as well as destination locations like hotels, resorts and even summer camps that sell or serve allergen-friendly food. In addition, there are profiles on chefs and other business operators sensitive to the needs of customers with food allergies.

The idea, Hultquist says, is to connect people with experiences and knowledge about products and services they can share easily.

Hultquist says in the first quarter of 2018, downloads of the app have doubled. She’s convinced that’s because more people are seeking information on specialized diets they can trust. Getting information from fellow allergy suffers makes them feel more comfortable. She is, however, quick to point out that Spokin never shares medical information or advice. That, she says, is information best provided by doctors or other medical professionals.

“We hear from people who say their biggest frustration is that there are parents or people out there with allergies who are mini-experts, but that their information is captive in their heads,” she says. “What we’re doing is harnessing all that information and putting it into one place. We’re allowing people to discover how allergen-friendly some restaurants are.”

And, she adds, the payoff is two-fold: consumers get information they need and restaurants catering to those needs are developing a loyal customer base.

“A really nice reciprocal relationship is being built,” she says. “We’re introducing these restaurants to diners, and they get to see who recommends them and why. The information is passed between people who share allergens and the restaurants get kudos for doing the right things.”

Hulquist says she just wants to help allergy sufferers solve their particular pain point.

“At first, I wanted to make things easier for my daughter, but I’ve realized we’re helping so many more people who are working so hard to enjoy some of the best parts of life. We want to share information collectively so people who want to eat out actually can!”

See Susie and the Spokin app at the National Restaurant Association Show's Startup Alley pavilion, May 19 to 22, in Chicago.

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